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Understand your rights as a copyright owner and make a commitment to protect them.

"To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries." — The Copyright and Patent Clause of the U.S. Constitution (Article I, Section 8, Clause 8)

Here's the good news: The United States government will help you protect your photographs and other "original works of authorship," such as written articles, books, movies, plays and music. As a photographer, you can theoretically decide who publishes your images and demand payment for the usage. This protection is outlined extensively in Title 17 of the U.S. Code,  better known as the United States Copyright Law.

Here's the bad news: The blossoming digital age makes protecting photographic copyrights increasingly difficult. Digital technology makes reproducing images with or without permission easy. A further challenge is our governments must balance the rights of image creators with other essential needs, including one of the most important requirements of an open, vital culture – the free flow of information and ideas.

The U.S. Congress recently has grappled with balancing the issue of protecting copyrights with the need for a healthy exchange of ideas in two rounds of proposed "Orphan Works" legislation. An Orphan Works law would solve a legitimate and serious problem by making it possible for cultural heritage institutions to use valuable images and other copyrighted materials when the copyright owner is unknown or cannot be found.

Though Orphan Works would not change basic copyright protections, it could potentially place additional burdens on photographers who want to control use of their images. Proper use of photographic metadata will be key for those who would protect their copyrights.

Metadata offer a first line of defense.

Since metadata can't be "locked" into a digital file, it can be intentionally removed by intentional copyright infringers. However, it still serves as a valuable resource, since most image users seek permission, when possible, before using copyrighted works. By simply filling in the appropriate metadata fields, photographers can ensure these users know who owns copyrights and how to contact the owners.

Learn more about Copyright fundamentals.
View Additional copyright resources.