It's late as I write this and I want to get back to "regular programming" tomorrow (Ctein has a post awaiting publication, and I'd like to say more about Wood, Water, and Light by Mendlowitz and White), so just a few final final recommendations, after three days of vigorous chewing on the issue of copyright.
The issues involved in presenting work and protecting it are somewhat at odds. Few of us want publicity at the cost of control, and few of us want complete protection at the cost of any sort of exposure. Thus, a balance is usually what is sought. You need to find your own balance, one that you are comfortable with. The following is what seems reasonable to me; but you might want to modify these ideas to find your own balance.
• In general, copyright notices and reminders are probably a good idea overall. But be aware that prominent or aggressively placed notices might discourage some people from sharing your work with others (and not all such sharing is bad for you).
• If you put a copyright notice on or very near each of your pictures, it might be a good idea to add, somewhere nearby, either in language or via Creative Commons symbols, some indication of how you would like your pictures to be treated.
• If you are using a photo-sharing site, be aware of how it handles such notices and conditions, to make sure it suits what you prefer. (I mentioned a site I often look at where the default notice is "copyright by / may not be used without permission." The site appears to give a contact option, but it often doesn't work. Many is the time I've wanted to use a picture I've found on that site—and give the photographer some publicity she might well covet—but couldn't.)
• If you are seeking or would welcome recognition, publicity, and/or customers, it is probably wise to make it relatively easy for people to contact you.
• If you want to put a notice on the picture itself, I suggest you use your website address or email address (unless you have a very distinctive name). I say this speaking as someone who has spent many hours trying (and often failing) to track down Joe Blow from a notice that just says "© 1999 Joseph Blow."
• The best protection against piracy is not to put your picture on the internet at all. Next best is to use a very small, low-resolution, poor-quality JPEG that no one will be able to use for much of anything even if they want to. Unfortunately, these measures directly conflict with the goal of presenting your work so that others see and appreciate it. Personally, I feel that it's worth it to make your work look good and suffer some piracy, rather than be miserly about it. But make your own determination.
• Seriously consider registering copyright on your "best" or "signature" images. It's time-consuming and expensive, so very few people do it for all, or even a majority, of their pictures; but we all know that most of our work is not terribly remarkable. We usually know what our best stuff is. Anyone who uses your picture to make any kind of serious money will probably also be a "big fish" with deep pockets and significant resources. In fighting a battle with that sort of opponent, previous registration of your copyright will do you a world of good.
As an example of perhaps the best way of handling your online images, check out my friend John Lehet's site at www.lehet.com. He's just transitioning to marking his images, so not all of them are marked, but those that are have an unobtrusive mark with a faint copyright symbol and his website address (note that this is not a legal copyright notice; the copyright symbol in this case is just a reminder). It doesn't interfere with the pictures, but unless a pirate deliberately obscures it, it makes it possible for people encountering his JPEGs elsewhere to find their way back to him. He uses relatively large JPEGs that make his work look good, which leaves him open to theft, but the protections he's put in place are judicious and well considered.
Now go to the bottom of his home page and click on "Licensing." The main goal of his site is to sell prints; but here, John spells out what else his pictures may and may not be used for and how interested parties can proceed. This is enormously helpful to any photo researcher. Finally, note that he makes it easy to contact him (in several ways), for further information or to get questions answered that aren't covered at the website.
And one final recommendation:
• No system is perfect. You sacrifice some protection for the sake of presentation, and you may lose out on some publicity for the sake of preserving your rights. So don't take it too hard when something goes awry one way or the other. Find your own balance, be open to modifying it in the future in case it's not working for you, but then try to relax and not worry about it too much. This stuff can drive you crazy if you let it—and it's seldom worth that.
Mike (thanks to John Lehet and many of the commenters to our previous posts on this topic)