Ron’s Rants: Copyright Notices

Ok, rant time. You know how sometimes you’re searching for something online, or looking through a photo album for an event, and you find a great photo, but it’s ruined because the photographer put a giant, obtrusive copyright notice right on the photo? I hate it when that happens.

totally annoying copyright notice

I’m not talking about an elegant copyright notice, or a neat, clean line with the photographer’s information towards the bottom of the photo. I’m talking about the really obnoxious kind that screams out at you like someone’s blowing an air horn in your face. I really, really, hate these and don’t see the point. I really think most photographers are far too obtrusive in the way they protect their images. I certainly understand the need to protect their images, and I’m all about following copyright laws. Heck, I’ve taken my fair share of photos, and took a year and a half of photography classes at the local community college so I understand the work that goes into a photo and the way it’s an artistic expression that means a lot to you. I can imagine the frustration of having people rip you off.

But putting big honking messages all over your image doesn’t just prevent people from ripping you off—it makes you look like a jerk. It feels to me like you’re just yelling to get everybody’s attention, so they know you took the photo. Do you really need that much credit?

My suggestion is that photographers should let their work speak for itself. Your photograph is a work of art. Don’t ruin it by signing your name all over it. Have you even seen a Picasso painting with a big giant “COPYRIGHT PABLO PICASSO” all over it? I haven’t. He just wrote “Picasso” on his. I’ve heard the same went for Pierre-Auguste Renoir. He just wrote “Renoir” in a subtle fashion in the bottom right corner.

If you’re selling your images online and don’t want people to steal your images, then it’s pretty simple—just give out small thumbnails. You shouldn’t be posting your full-size images anyway. And there are ways to track down image thieves as well. So you don’t need to lose sleep over people taking your full-size high resolution images if you’re being careful.

The best perspective I’ve heard on this issue comes from Paul Kohlman, a good friend of mine and a commercial photographer I work with from time to time. He’s had his photography printed dozens times in national design magazines and has won numerous awards for his photos. Here’s what he told me once (paraphrased):

“I don’t stamp those big ugly notices on my images. I think they ruin the photo. When I get a photo printed in a magazine, I like to put my credit sideways, in small print. I want people to be so impressed with the art that they think to themselves ‘Wow! Who is this photographer?’ and then let them search around a bit to find my info. Those are the people who end up hiring me anyway.”

I think that’s brilliant. And humble. If you’re a photographer, please be more subtle. I’d like to enjoy your art, not be yelled at about who took the image.

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