When you take a photo, write a story, paint a picture or do any other creative work, your creation is automatically copyrighted. You don't need to file any forms, label anything with the copyright logo (a lowercase "c" in a circle), watermark the image or do anything else to add copyright to an image because every unique, original creation is automatically copyrighted. That being said, many people choose to help protect their images from being used without permission by registering their images with the U.S. Copyright Office and using a watermark to add a logo to the photo.

You Can Register Images

While your work is automatically copyrighted when you create it, you can choose to register your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office. While this is entirely optional, it can give you some added legal protections if someone steals your copyrighted work. In fact, you can only sue someone for stealing your work if it is registered (though you can register it after it was stolen and then sue). To register your images with the Copyright Office, you can register up to 750 photos all at once for a single $45 fee as of 2019.

While you can wait until after someone has infringed on your work to register it with the Copyright Office, if you file before someone has stolen your work or within three months of creation (in the case that it is stolen right away), you can include punitive damages and coverage for your attorney's fees in your list of damages. This means that if someone loses a case against you, they will have to pay a penalty for stealing as well as pay for your attorney, but you can only do this if you register your copyright before it is stolen.

Adding a Watermark to Pictures

While it will not help you from a legal perspective, you may choose to add a watermark to your images to offer you further protection from theft. A watermark is a faint logo or words that appear over a photograph that allow it to still be viewed but also tags it with copyright information. You can watermark using your name, website, contact information, the copyright symbol, your logo or any combination of these options. Doing this will:

  • Make it much more difficult for other people to take credit for your image

  • Discourage website owners from using your image without your permission

  • Ensure that people will know you created an image if it is shared without your permission

  • Help you to identify your own photos easier so you can take action after they have been stolen. This is particularly true if your photograph features a popular image, like the Statue of Liberty.

Using a Watermark Photos App

When watermarking an image, it is important that you make the watermark easy enough to see and difficult to crop out while still allowing the image itself to be viewed clearly. This is a difficult balance to maintain, which is why it is often easier to use paid or free watermark software or a watermark photos app designed specifically for this purpose than to add your own watermark with Photoshop (though this is still a popular watermarking software among photographers).

PlumAmazing, Watermarker, WinWatermark, A+ Signature, Marksta and EasyBatchPhoto are all quality software and app programs you can use to watermark your images.

Alternatively, some software companies will add an invisible digital watermark to your images so they can be identified online without having a mark laid over the image itself. For $50 a year, Digimarc will even track when your digitally watermarked images are used online and notify you so you can make sure they are not being used without your permission.