As a photographer, how does the copyright symbol protect you?

Why do we need copyright as photographers and what is its purpose? In a nutshell, copyright is there to stop anyone using your images for anything they want.


The answer to this is NO. This works for any amateur photographer who takes pictures. and whilst it does protect professional creatives, it also applies to anyone producing any type of creative work on any level, including photography. Even a simple snapshot on your smartphone is copyrighted. 

However, thanks to the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, which was created in 1886 and has 179 country members including the UK, your work is pretty much protected the same wherever you are in the world.

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It’s simple – if you take an image, then you own the copyright to that image. Under UK copyright law, any person who ‘creates’ an image after 1st August 1989 is the owner of the image for their lifetime plus another 70 years. You don’t have to register your photographs to have them copyrighted as the law comes into existence as soon as the image is created.


But what would happen if someone else took an image on your camera – would you own the copyright? No. The person who took the image has the copyright. There was a case a while back concerning a ‘selfie’ taken by a monkey on photographer David Slater’s camera. Slater claimed he owned the copyright to the image, whereas Wikimedia Commons and the blog Techdirt claimed as the macaque took the image then the photographer didn’t have the copyright.

Photo by Michalakis Ppalis with Pixel photos

Animal rights group Peta also became involved, saying the macaque should own the copyright. Slater and Peta eventually settled, with Slater agreeing to give a quarter of the funds he receives from selling the selfie to registered charities dedicated to protecting the welfare or habitat of the macaque. The image is still on Wikimedia Commons, against the wishes of the photographer, who can no longer afford to pursue his challenge.

There may be circumstances where you might take the image but not own the copyright to the image, for example, if you are employed by a company. Most photographers employed by an organization have to sign a contract before they start work to agree to release the copyright to their employer. Legally, a contract needs to be in place if the copyright is assigned over to another person or party. Although there are many downloadable documents online, we advise that if you
want your contracts to be used as proof in a court of law, you get a professional such as a solicitor or lawyer to draw them up.

If you are a follower of this website, you know I take great pride to include the photographer’s name with every photo. But, why can I use someone else’s photos on my website? That is because the photographer(s) have agreed to let anyone use their photo. I am sure they are hoping that their photo is used and gets out there, with their name on it, so it wasn’t in vain. I use two companies that offer FREE PHOTOS without the need to obtain copyright permission. And that is, and Unsplash. Both companies are using photographs from great photographers. And I have always made it a point to attach a name to that photo.

tree with maple leaves
Photo by Valiphotos on

I love this above photo, and you have seen this several times throughout my many blogs.

Do you need to add the © symbol to your photos?

No, you don’t need to add anything to your images for them to be copyrighted to you – they are automatically your intellectual property. Intellectual property rights (IPR) are the rights granted to creators and owners of works that are the result of human intellectual creativity.

Although you don’t have to copyright your images if you are posting or uploading them online, it can be a good idea to add a watermark and the copyright symbol as extra protection. Doing so gives a clear indication to your audience that the image is owned by you. Also if an individual or company wants to track you down to use your image for commercial purposes, they can find you more easily. Adding copyright information to the metadata of your image is also a good idea.

What should I do if someone steals my work?

This is always a tough situation. Here is what usually happens:

If a company or individual takes your work, this is called infringement and you have the legal right to stop them from doing so. How you pursue them is up to you, but it’s often best to avoid going to court as this can be costly. Instead, approach the individual or company directly to inform them of their breach. Once contact has been established, a resolution can usually be made. The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) offers a mediation service at a cost to parties involved in an IP-related dispute (see links and reference boxout for details).

If no resolution can be made, you have the right to take the matter to court. However, as outlined above, this can be costly and seeking legal advice is advised. As stated on the government website, a court of law can stop that person from making further infringing use of the material by granting an injunction, award the copyright owner damages, and make the infringing party give up the goods to the copyright owner.

Will a signature on my photo work well as a copyrighted photo?

Here is one of my own photos with a signature on the front. That is a great copyright symbol.

I almost always feel that if you can put a signature on your photo, that would be harder for a person to take it off. However, they could just crop that area out, the same they could with a copyright symbol. But, a signature seems to make it definitely look like that photo totally belongs to this photographer.

I had a company by the name of PHOTOPOLISH to create my signature and an easy app on my computer to add my signature to all my photos. There are probably others, but, they worked well for me.

Photographing artistic images, and artists:

Photo by Johen Redman on Unsplash

Taking pictures of art, or an artist requires skill to get the best from it. First of all, let’s make sure you have one thing clear before you take any picture of art, or even an artist. This is a group of people that really specialize in making money with their skill or art, so, copyright infringement is going to be a big thing you have to look out for. Just as a professional photographer would like to earn money from their work, the artist does not want you to take a photo and then, you, make money from it. It is important that you check with the artist before you even take a picture. Let’s take a look at several pictures, classified as either artistic, or art.

The photo above is interesting because it is important in this situation that you include a person for reference to the size. Look at this again, and see that without the person, you might have thought that this was some new dream home for Barbie. New designs in small homes are becoming a big, big thing, and artists are getting creative in making this look right.

Photo by Yura Timoshenko on Unsplash —— Why can you get away with taking a photo of this art piece? First of all it is in a gallery. But the photographer took a picture of it to show that this painting is part of an exhibit, and not solely taking a picture of this painting. And even if you tried to make a photo from the painting, you could never get a good copy. It’s not a straight on shot, and it’s got some reflections. It won’t work. But, to see it as part of other paintings, makes it something you can take a picture of.
Photo by Lanny Cottrell – Photo of an artist at Yellowstone making a painting of Mammoth Falls, Yellowstone National Park. I wanted to get a picture of this artist painting this picture of Mammoth Falls, and before I took the photo, I asked him if I could take his picture from behind his shoulder. He was obliged and let me take his photo. Some people will willingly allow you to take their photo, while others do not want this. So, don’t be shy…. ASK.
Photo by Jung Ho Park on Unsplash ======== This is an artists sculpture. It was made for a city’s decoration. So, it can be photographed without any problem. It is part of public view.
Photo by Joël Vogt on Unsplash ======= And this one is a photo that you can usually take a picture of, because, the artist knows that it might get published somewhere, and the free publicity is worth it. Some artists don’t even want you to take photos of them. I have been to many concerts that has a sign out front that says: NO PHOTOGRAPHY PLEASE. Do not take pictures if you see this sign. But, I have been to some concerts and there is a sign at the entrance that says: PHOTOS ARE ENCOURAGED. I was just watching an old Michael Jackson YouTube video, and he starts out the concert by telling everyone to not take any videos of this concert. Can you imagine that you, as the artist, had hired someone to take the videos of you, and you are paying him big money. And then you find that someone else posted videos of the concert, and it is on YouTube already. Oh, that is just not good.
Photo by Frank Eiffert on Unsplash ======= This is perfectly ok to take this photo of this famous statue. The artist has been dead for many years, and no copyright was ever developed.
Photo by Frank Eiffert on Unsplash=== This amazing art work at the top of some cathedral or church, has been fine to take pictures of this for a long time. They realize that it is now a tourist stop, and as such have no problem taking photos.


When taking photos of art, beware of copyrights. And don’t try to sneak a photo either, because some day, you will get caught. Enjoy the art, but, be aware of what type of art you can take pictures of. The old art that is hundreds of years old, you are probably going to be fine taking pictures of that, but, anything that looks current, do not take pictures. If there is any photo, art piece that has a signature on it, do not take a picture.

This photo is signed. You are not allowed to copy it. But, if you want a copy for yourself, you can order one at Or