Creative Commons on Photographs

Anyone who knows me knows how much I love digital media. Most of my hobbies involve something to do with the Internet in one form or another, and just recently I reworked “my photoblog”: with a new theme and fresh photos updating every day.

The trouble comes in with dishonest folks who like to ‘borrow’ other people’s photographs and pass them off as their own, especially in order to earn a quick buck off someone else’s work. My wife has urged me on a number of occasions to add a watermark over all my photos in order to protect them from just such unscrupulous antics. My biggest complaint with watermarking photos is how disfiguring they are. For me, watermarks ruin any enjoyment a viewer will get from seeing the image. I know I certainly hate looking at photographs that have been watermarked, no matter how stunning the shot. I certainly don’t want to do that to anyone who might potentially enjoy my own photos.

On my photoblog, I have a brief bit of legalese in the footer. It’s a “Creative Commons”: clause – specifically, an Attribution-Noncommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 clause. This basically says that anyone is free to use and modify my photos, so long as proper credit is given back to me, the photos are not used in any commercial ventures, and they share the photos under the same license under which I have released them.

I’m a big proponent of sharing media around the Web. It’s a whole new world out there, and there’s a lot of great content being created and shared by others. It’s a global community that’s made all the better by people who create and share and build on each other. That’s part of why I’ve been a fan of Creative Commons almost since its inception. It allows for greater ease of sharing content while still protecting one’s rights to their own work.

One of the things I’ve been toying around with the last couple of days is adding a little Creative Commons image to all of my photos. I’ve automated the process with a batch action in Photoshop, but what it essentially does is add the smallest Creative Commons license image to my photos with a copyright date and my name. Below is an example of one such image (click for a larger view):

The idea behind this is to put some identifying mark on my photos (per my wife’s suggestion) while keeping the intrusive footprint in the image as small as possible. I’d be interested in some feedback, especially those of you most familiar with copyright law and the Creative Commons license. Is something like this even necessary? What’s the best way to protect digital photographs from content theft, since there’s negative to prove your ownership of said images?

5 thoughts on “Creative Commons on Photographs”

  1. I've seen advice of all sorts for photos. One of the best pieces that I've seen yet is to upload only reduced quality/size versions to the web. That way, you can show that you have the original file and the plagiarizer cannot. I wonder how much protection you have when embedding a comment in the photo data with Gimp…

    1. It's something I wrestle with quite a bit, because I love digital media and I love sharing high-quality work. By the same token, though, I'd hate it if someone took my photography and passed it off as their own in order to make a quick buck, so the question arises from that as to what would be considered a reasonable trade-off on quality in order to ensure proof of original copyright. It's not an easy thing to determine.

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