You've probably noticed that all of the photos I post in this blog (and anywhere else) have a copyright symbol and my name or web address--and so should yours. It only takes a second to add a copyright notice and, while it certainly won't stop someone from ripping off your images, it might slow them down. Also, if someone intentionally deletes or hides your copyright notice, it shows intention to commit a crime.
I'm definitely not an expert on copyright, but I do know that the moment you create a photograph (under United States of America law, anyway), that photograph is copyrighted in your name. Technically you don't have to register each image with the copyright office, but there are benefits if you do. If someone uses one of your photos without your permission after it's registered, for example, you are entitled to statutory damages and legal fees, in addition to being compensated for usage fees (without registration, you would only get compensation for the usage). And you don't have to register each individual photo, you can group your images together and register them for one fee; putting 100 images on a disc and calling them "Collected Works of Jeff Wignall, Volume I" for example. The United States Copyright Office has a great website that explains the laws very clearly.
Legalities aside, however, there are multiple benefits to putting your copyright notice in your images. For one, it discourages people (well, some people) from just casually downloading and using your images for their own purposes. Personally, it's OK with me if a college kid uses one of my sunset shots as their wallpaper, but if someone uses one of my sunsets on their website, they'll have to negotiate it with me first. Also, putting your name on your photos shows that you have a certain pride in your work. You see names on everything these days--including the company name on the side of the sea plane in the shot here, so why shouldn't your photos carry your name?
You're probably noticed, however, that there is no "©" (copyright) symbol on your keyboard. So how do you put a copyright symbol in your work? If you're using Photoshop (and Photoshop Elements is the same, I think) and a Mac, it's easy. Just click on the type tool and then hold down the option key and type the letter "g" and that will produce the symbol. If you're using Windows (and I know almost nothing about Windows), it's a bit more complicated: Holding down the Alt key, press 0169 and that should produce the symbol. I've read on a few forums that you might also need to press the "Fn" (function) key at the same time and also, you need to use the numbers keyboard when typing 0169.
You can also find the copyright symbol in your extra characters palette, which you can find next to the volume indicator on your top tool bar on a Mac, or by finding the Windows Character Map on your Windows machine. You can then just click (or double click) or copy/paste the symbol where you need it. By the way, if you're a Windows user and I've got this wrong, send me an email or post a comment and I'll correct it.
Also, if you are using a different editing program, there is probably yet another alternate method--just use the help screens and you should find it no problem. I try to be discrete about placing the copyright notice in my images and I know that that makes it easier for someone to clone it away if they have larceny in mind, but again, cloning out a copyright notice with intent to avoid paying for an image is a serious crime. On some images, pictures that I know might be in high demand (like some of the popular musicians I photograph), for instance, I put the symbol in a place where it's more difficult to alter--even putting it across the face if I think it's needed. But for most images, I think a subtle notice in a corner makes the point.
Read this Wikipedia article to learn more about copyright issues.
Friends in Beijing
9 hours ago