In collaboration with my professional guest, ANNE NYSTRÖM

In our modern world photographs are not only presented in print format but their digital versions are also living on the internet. The web provides easy access to creators' beautiful work and makes it easy to get discovered by potential clients or fans, but at the same time it is not so easy anymore for copyright owners to stop non-permitted use or undesired ways of reproduction.

In this episode of the 'Let's Talk About...' blog post series, we will discuss the topic of copyright, and look into the different ways to protect your work as a creator.

If you are interested in learning more about camera angles, manual settings on your camera, composition, food styling tricks and tips, or even business practices you can check the previous episodes of this popular blog series by clicking here.

Portfolio Collage - Photo by © Reka Csulak Three Pod Studio

Portfolio Collage - Photo by © Reka Csulak

If we miss applying certain practices to identify and protect our work, we will face significant challenges when it's time to regain control over our intellectual property, so it's a good idea to learn more about your rights and also learn about what others can and cannot do with your photos. This way you can take a few simple steps to safeguard your creations, even at the stage when photography is still a hobby.

It is also very important to mention, that you own the copyright to the photos you snap on your phone and also for the photos you never share publicly. Not only professional photos grant you these rights.

What can you do to protect your photos?

I wanted to collect a few methods that creatives can do to identify their photos and make it difficult for others to use their creations without their given permission, so you can properly evaluate and select the options that benefit your work the most.

Add your copyright to the metadata

Photo metadata is the information and specific details related a specific image file. When you check a photo's information with a metadata extractor or EXIF viewer, you will see data such as creation date, author, copyright, specs, technical info, location etc.

While metadata can be an interesting field to discuss from many practical aspects (maybe we will do this in another post), the most important thing to mention from a creator's perspective is to make sure that you are adding specified metadata to your files, so you can inform others that you created that image, what rights they have (on not have) to your photo and also, how to reach out to you. You will find more guidance on this in the Exercise chapter.


Applying watermarks on your images is a very direct way to specify ownership, identify the author and stop non-permitted use, while also being a marketing tool.

Invisible barcoding

Now this takes some effort or investment, but there is an option to place "barcodes" to your images in an invisible way via a small amount of digital noise with a pattern unique to your image. Paid services are also offer checking the internet for any use of your work, so they can help you to identify and take steps against non-permitted use.

Copyright note

You can add copyright and usage information in various ways along with your images, and display a note as part of your website footer, photo caption, social media post description, title and also as part of the alt-text fields.

Avoid uploading high-resolution files

If you share full-res files, that is obviously allows anyone to do anything they want with your photos including large prints or other forms of reproduction. Limit file size and compress your files for online use in a way that provides your viewers a good experience but you cannot be taken much advantage on.

Keep or register supporting evidence

In general, I highly recommend keeping originals and other material that can be considered as supporting evidence, so in case you find yourself in the middle of a copyright debate or at court, you will be able to prove your ownership and rights, so anyone who is unrightfully claiming your work as their creation, they stand no chance.

Copyright and intellectual property law can slightly vary in each county, and there are some places and scenarios when you should consider register your copyright.

Specify usage rights in the contract with your clients

Having a mutually signed contract has many benefits, and it also should specify the usage rights granted to your contractual partners, be it a specific licence or a copyright buy-out and also mention non-permitted actions if any. It is your mutual interest to have everything specified in details, so everything is clear and there will be no need for a debate on grey areas. Even if it might sound obvious, I must mention, that in addition to the client's rights, it is truly wise to summarise your rights as a photographer/copyright owner, as these are not always as obvious to others as we assume.

Agreement between co-creators

When a photograph is the creation of multiple talents, an additional discussion needs to take place. Imagine the scenario where the photographer is taking the image (most of the time that makes him/her the copyright owner), but there is a food stylist also on set and creates and executes the actual visual concept. They are both crucial elements in this collaboration and their combined talents result in that beautiful image at the end.

This is often gets forgotten, but it is very important to have a mutual agreement (the best in written) between co-creators, so there is no debate later on, and it is crystal clear, who can do what with the photo, and also specify, what is not permitted. For example in my example, the stylist could be also granted with a specific licence to be able to use the photo in their portfolio and marketing, but they cannot sell or sub-licence the photo to a third-party. The terms always depend on what is agreed between the co-creators, sometimes there will be shared copyright ownership or a licence granted to the photographer's collaborator.

Read the terms of websites

Before starting to regularly submitting your images to a website, you definitely want to read their Ts&Cs, to make sure, you are aware of what rights you are granting to the service provider or other users.

Copyright -  © Reka Csulak Three Pod Studio

Copyright - © Reka Csulak

Exercise: Use Specified Metadata

The first step every photographer must do is to burn a specific metadata into their files. As we use many different softwares in our post-processing, I would like to provide you with a general summary on what is the minimum to include in your metadata.

  1. Most professional softwares have the possibility to create import/export templates for metadata. Make sure to discover, where and how you can specify this information and how the software ties it to your files.
  2. Detailed copyright info is the most important part of metadata, make sure to add detailed info to these field
  3. Copyright example: ©Reka Csulak 2022 (make sure to update the year on each 1 January)
  4. Copyright status shall be set to copyrighted as a default
  5. Rights Usage Terms shall specify how third parties can use your content, I suggest to include All Rights Reserved here as a default
  6. You can add a specific link to the Copyright info URL field, for example your website
  7. Specify the fields with the creator information as much as you are comfortable with, but I suggest to add at least your name, email and website. If you don't want to specify your exact address, but want to achieve better SEO results, your can add your city or country which can function as important keywords.
  8. Modern gear can include GPS information for the images taken, so if you do not want to disclose such information (think about the location of your home studio), then make sure, that your metadata does not contain location info.
  9. Adding keywords is optional in general, and if you want to use this feature effectively, you need to apply them to each photo individually or one photo set at a time. This way your keywords can stay specific and relevant to the content. If you are planning to sell your photos in stock photo galleries, do not be surprised that they will often require keywords to be added to the metadata and/or during the upload process.

You can benefit many ways by including this versatile information to your metadata. You not only state it clear that you are the copyright owner of your work, but also make it easier for potential clients to find your services and work. You can even create metadata presets to simplify your workflow.

Do not forget to review and update your metadata yearly, but also at any time where there are changes in your details.

If you wish to continue the discussion about copyright, metadata and the ways to protect your own work, feel free to DM me @rekacsulak on Instagram or message me here.

LR Metadata Panel

LR Metadata Panel

I invited my lawyer and friend whose specialities are intellectual property law and trademarks, so you can hear someone truly professional in this field uncover more about copyright and discuss how creators can protect their work effectively. Welcome, Anne Nyström on board!

As the following part is discussing copyright and related legal matters, please read and take the following prologue by Anne into account:

As always, this interview is not intended as formal legal advice, and if you are concerned about your copyright, you should seek advice from a copyright expert. But hopefully, this discussion at least sheds some light on a question that often confuses creators.

Who are you and what is your specialty?

My name is Anne Nyström. I am a Finnish lawyer and trademark attorney living in Sweden at the moment. I studied law at University of Helsinki, specialising in intellectual property in my master’s studies. I work at an international IP law firm helping clients especially in areas related to trademarks and brand protection. My main practice areas also include marketing law and contract law. My passion is to help clients to build strong and sustainable brands and protect their intellectual property.

I am also enthusiastic about the legal aspects of social media and influencer marketing and have been blogging more or less actively ever since I was 15 years old (that makes 20 years). In my free time, I love sipping oatmilk lattes in cozy cafés and writing funny stories about sassy ladies working towards their dreams.

Portrait © Anne Nyström

Portrait © Anne Nyström

Who owns the copyright to an image?? 

Photos are generally protected by copyright. This means the person who took the photo usually owns it, but there can be special circumstances and differences between jurisdictions.

For example, the level of copyright protection is usually different for ‘regular photos’ that we all take in our daily life and photos that are creative enough are considered as artwork. At this point in time, there is no single framework for copyright law in Europe that is valid across all countries on the continent. Instead, each country has its own set of copyright laws, which are backed up by the help of international copyright agreements and EU legislation. Photos which don’t reach the creative criteria to be considered as photographic works are still protected as photos in their own right under EU law. In contrast, outside of the EU it can be a completely different story. In Switzerland, for example, photos are only protected when they meet certain creative criteria or can be considered as being of artistic value.

Can the copyright be shared between multiple copyright owners?

Yes, in most jurisdictions copyright can be shared between several copyright owners, i.e. jointly owned.

A joint work is created when two or more people contribute copyrightable authorship to a project with the intention that they are making one final work. Under copyright law, all of the people who create a joint work own copyright in the work together.

To explain this further, we need to define some legal concepts. A ‘copyrightable authorship’ is any creative expression fixed in a tangible form. In contrast, an idea or concept that has not been fixed in a tangible form, for example, something that’s only been voiced orally (e.g., “let’s use this china pattern” or “what if we had a spoon in front of the plate”) is not copyrightable.

If we think the responsibilities between for example an art director and a photographer, the photographer will usually be the sole copyright author of the final artwork.

If copyright is owned jointly, the rights vary between jurisdictions. However, in some jurisdictions, every copyright owner can for example license the work. In some jurisdictions some rights can only be exercised when all collaborators agree.

In general, joint copyright ownership can be very tricky. It is recommended to draft a formal agreement for joint copyright works. Don’t forget to decide on the applicable law because copyright laws are different around the world!

Photographers often find their images used or reposted by others without their prior permission. What steps can the photographer do in case of non-permitted use?

The unfortunate fact of the internet world is the flourishing misuse of images and other content without proper permission from their respective owners. The level of knowledge regarding copyrights especially on the internet/social media is not very high. Because many people ‘repost’ material on social media and internet, many people think it is legal. My advice is to first figure out who the infringer is – if it is a private person or a professional, perhaps a company. Depending on that fact, the suitable next steps can be decided.

In general, I recommend immediately take action whenever you learn that your images have been misused. Act on the violation right away and send the offender a notice mentioning their illegal activity and ask them to take down your materials to avoid legal repercussions. Be polite in your request as the person may not have known that the image is copyrighted. If they don’t respond or decline to comply with your request to remove your image then try contacting their hosting provider, consider using a takedown service or drafting a more formal cease and desist letter. If these actions don’t help, you can consider a copyright infringement claim in court. However, there are lots of risks in litigation, so you should carefully consider this option with a lawyer.

Can the photographer rightfully demand payment from the person or company who used or reposted their image without permission? Does it change the case if the unrightfully used content gets removed?

There can be differences between jurisdictions, but often the photographer has a right to claim “damages” or “retro-active license fees”. If an infringement has happened, there is a right to compensation, even if the content has been removed.

Does it make any difference to a non-permitted use when the person or company is including credit or by-line to the photographer while using or reposting their image?

Giving credit by itself does not excuse copying that would otherwise amount to a copyright infringement. Giving credit is good professional practice, but legally it does not excuse unauthorized copying without some kind of permission from the original creator.

What are the steps you would suggest to photographers in order to protect their images?

If you work collaboratively, have an agreement between the collaborators.

Before you submit photos to any third-party website or social media, study their terms and conditions and check their policies to learn how they will protect your content and intellectual property.

  • Will they add a copyright notice?
  • Will they use or share the image elsewhere?
  • Will they respond to copyright infringement requests?

Note that terms and conditions can vary greatly between the typical social media websites and websites that specialise in selling photographs. Social media websites don’t usually offer any protection to the images and may sometimes even use them for their own purposes such as advertisement or surveys.

Be also careful when using hashtags on social media, as many companies have their special hashtags for example “YesCompanyX” that may give them rather strong rights to your content. Although the legal status regarding these situations is not clear yet, it is best to be careful.

In some jurisdictions, such as in the US, copyright can be registered. Consider that to get better level of protection in those countries.

If you post images on your own website, be sure to add a copyright notice. This will indicate that the images displayed are your intellectual property and can’t be used without your consent. Some people may not realise that images displayed on the internet aren’t free to use as they like so it is good to remind them.


Add watermarks to your images.


Edit EXIF (Exchangeable Image File) data of the image in your image. You can add more information to the existing EXIF data such as a copyright notice, your name, etc.


Depending on your website provider, it can be possible to restrict saving images. Check if you can disable right-click so you can restrict average computer users from directly downloading your images.

As the above chapter of this post is discussing copyright and related legal matters, I place the note written by Anne here again, please read it and take it into account:

As always, this interview is not intended as formal legal advice, and if you are concerned about your copyright, you should seek advice from a copyright expert. But hopefully, this discussion at least sheds some light on a question that often confuses creators.

In case you need professional advice on legal matters related to your work, or have any questions about her suggestions in the above Q&A, feel free to reach out to Anne: