How To Copyright Photos: A Simple Guide

When you create anything, whether it is a book, a t-shirt design, a song lyric, or a photograph, you want to protect it. This is your creation. It came from your mind and you envisioned it.

The best way to protect an artistic creation, such as a photograph, is with copyright. When a photograph represents your copyright, you need to prove you are the creator of the photograph and the holder of the copyright.

This is why you need to know how to copyright photos.

In this article, we will elaborate on what it means to copyright your work and give you some reasons to consider doing so. If, after gaining a little copyright knowledge, you decide it is something you would like to pursue, we’ve got you covered.

The last section of this article will tell you how to copyright photos in a few simple steps. 


As soon as you create any kind of artistic material, you are the copyright holder. If you take a picture, you are the creator of the photograph and you hold the copyright. However, if you upload a photo to the Internet and someone else uses it, you may want to protect the photograph from a certain usage.

Once a photo is out on the Internet, it becomes difficult to track down who owns the copyright. If someone else were to use the photograph to make money (or for some other usage you do not approve of) you would have the burden of proof in showing you were the original creator of the photograph.

Without legal documentation stating you hold the copyright, this becomes a challenge.

When you have a copyright, you are submitting information to the United States government that shows you are the creator of the work. After you are issued the copyright, nobody else can use the visual without your permission and, if you choose, you’re able to take legal action against the user.

Holding the physical copyright of your photograph prevents outside parties from using it—legally, anyway.


There are several reasons to copyright your photographs, but ultimately it all comes down to protection. Protection of yourself and protection of your intellectual property.


For many people, photography is a main or supplemental income. Whether you upload the visuals to a stock image website or you are a professional photographer, if someone else is using your image, it is money out of your pocket.

When your photos are your livelihood, you can’t afford to not protect them.

If you don’t copyright your photos, it would still be easier for you to prove yourself as the creator of the photo than a person who is falsely claiming it is their work. However, it would be much less of a hassle if your photo were formally copyrighted.


Perhaps you don’t care about making money from a photograph, but you are concerned about the image being misused. In these instances, you’ll want to protect your photograph.

This is another situation where knowing how to copyright photos comes in handy.

During the 2008 United States Presidential Campaign, a famous illustration of eventual President Obama using red, white and blue coloring came out with posters and other visuals. However, the graphic designer did not pay the creator of the photograph for the rights to use the photo and ended up in massive legal trouble.

It took a long time to identify the creator of the photograph because the photographer did not file for a copyright. They had time stamp proof of when they captured the photograph versus when the graphic came out.

They could have saved time (and money) by filing for copyright.

On the Internet these days, an uncopyrighted photo could be used for a million different reasons, and many of those reasons could be things you strongly disagree with. Nobody wants their creative property to be used to promote issues or concepts they disagree with.

By having a copyright and knowing how to copyright photos, you can protect yourself in these scenarios.


Copyrighting all of your photographs is time-consuming, expensive, and unnecessary. If you have photos with people in them and a third party tries to use those photos for any reason, you’ll have an easier time shutting down the third party’s use of those photos, even without a copyright in place.

A photo containing the likeness of another person cannot be used without that person’s consent. So, unless the people in your photographs gave consent to the third party, you will have the law on your side when trying to stop the spread of those photos, with or without a copyright.

You should also know if you ever have your photograph published, the publication can serve as documented proof that the photo belongs to you. This scenario also establishes a timeline for the creation of the photo.


The moment you create a photograph, you are the copyright holder. If you cannot prove you are the one who took the photograph, protecting yourself becomes more difficult.

By knowing how to copyright photos, you can quickly confirm that you are the creator and the copyright holder of the photograph in question.


To begin, you must download the correct copyright form from the United States government. Note that this copyright protects you in the United States. You may have protection when in another country, but it becomes more of a challenge to protect your photograph outside of the United States.

Chances are you don’t want to go through the trouble of filing for copyright in every single country, so you’ll be better off sticking with the U.S. copyright form.

Head over to the website and choose the Visual Form VA download. Print off the form and fill out all the information.

The first several pages of the form are instructions for the rest of the document. The document itself is relatively straightforward. It will tell you the mailing address of the copyright office you need your form to be sent to.


One reason most artists do not file for the copyright of their photograph, outside the instant creation of copyright when they snap the picture, is the cost. It costs $130 to file a copyright. At that price, it would be impossible for most photographers to copyright all of their work.

You may snap dozens, if not hundreds, of photographs over the course of a month. Copyrighting that many photos could amount to a small fortune.

If the fee doesn’t scare you off, send your documentation and payment in the form of a check or money order to the appropriate copyright office.


After the copyright has been processed you will receive proof of the copyright via USPS. So, if you’re planning on moving in the coming weeks (or months), provide the new address.

Copyrighting can be a lengthy process. The time to complete the processing of your copyright claim will vary depending on the influx of copyright requests the agency receives.

Once your photograph has been granted the copyright, you will receive confirmation in the mail. Store this in a safe place and make a digital copy for good measure. It provides you with some specific information you’ll need for proving you are the copyright holder.

Having this information on hand will make it easier to defend your photograph, should anyone ever try to use it.


You automatically have a copyright when you take a photograph. You can also file for copyright protection. However, one of the best ways to protect yourself is by abstaining from publishing the photograph on certain websites that are easily accessible.

Don’t publish the photograph on Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, or other similar sites. These kinds of sites put your photograph at high risk of being used without your knowledge or consent.

Even though you maintain the copyright with the website, these social platforms can take the photograph and use it. As soon as you upload your images to these sites, you have granted permission for your photos to be used.

So, if you want to ensure fewer organizations and individuals have access to your photographs, don’t publish the photograph to any file sharing or social platform.


Sometimes you need to copyright your photographs while other times it may not be necessary or worth the cost. However, knowing how to copyright photos at least gives you a choice in the matter.

By keeping in mind the simple steps discussed in this article, you can easily copyright any of your photographs. Perhaps it is for peace of mind, or perhaps you want to make sure your photo is lining your pockets rather than somebody else’s.

Whatever the case may be, copyright laws exist to protect you and your work, and now that you know how to copyright photos, you can do just that!

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