Photo Mechanic can update copyright year automatically

Illustration on using variables on Photo Mechanic to update copyright year

Photo Mechanic users can use variables; avoid copyright year hassles

Have you advanced the year in your copyright notice? As I write this, the new year is a couple of weeks old. That’s about when most photographers start to feel a slight gnawing feeling that maybe there might be something they’ve forgotten.

So, go increment your copyright year while it’s still early enough to pretend that you did it in time for your first assignment of the new year.

In my case, I had a gnawing feeling that maybe I should do a post on advancing the year in your copyright notice. As for the actual copyright notice, well, I have that covered without lifting a single lazy finger. Read on.

Users of Photo Mechanic don’t have to go through this copyright year nonsense. In Photo Mechanic, you can just put a variable in the copyright field in your template. The variable will fill in the copyright year when you apply your template. And you don’t have to worry about it anymore. Ever. Again.

Here’s how:

In Photo Mechanic, load your template. You’ll probably do this in the Stationery Pad, but the IPTC Editor is fine, too.

The copyright field, showing a variable in use
Use a variable in your copyright notice in Photo Mechanic to fill in the year. This one –  {year4}  – prints the creation year from the Exif (if available) or the file create date.

In Your Copyright field, simply replace the copyright year, say, “2018”, with the four-digit year variable, “{year4}” (Without the quotes, but WITH the curly brackets.) And re-save your template. 

The Copyright field in your template will look something like this:

© {year4} Joe Photographer  

Now, whenever you apply that template and click “OK”, Photo Mechanic will replace the variable with the year that’s listed in the picture’s Create Date Exif field. (Or the file creation date, if the Exif date isn’t available.)

You’ll get something like:

© 2019 Joe Photographer  

But what if you prefer to use the current year, from the computer’s Time and Date function? No problem. That’s the “{todayyear4}” variable.

The easiest thing to do is to simply copy and paste the variable you want from this post. (Or just type it out.) Otherwise, the complete list of Photo Mechanic variables is available in any dialog that can make use of them.

Adding a variable in Photo Mechanic with the Variables list
The {todayyear4} variable will print the current year from your computer’s Time and Date function. Put your cursor where you want the variable and double-click on the variable in the list. Photo Mechanic will place the variable at the cursor location.

The way you insert a variable that you don’t just type or paste is to press the ”Variables” button in the dialog. With your cursor placed wherever you’d like the variable to be added, go to the list and double click on the variable you want, and – shazam! – your variable is written at your cursor’s location.

Now that’s done

We’ll never(ish) have to think about copyright year again. Now let’s take a second or two and review the idea of the copyright notice itself.

According to the Copyright Office, copyright notices are optional for works first published after March 1, 1989. (You can download their circular on the subject here.) That takes all the pressure off. We’re not at peril of losing our copyright if we fail to get the form of the copyright notice just right anymore.

That said, getting something right is always a good thing. In this case, it’s especially a good thing because Google Images is now finally exposing the IPTC copyright metadata field. And that’s a big deal.

Watch the video version of this post

Anatomy of a copyright notice

A copyright notice, according to the Copyright Office, is comprised of three elements.

First is the copyright symbol, or the word “Copyright”.

The copyright symbol  – © – can be made on a Windows keyboard by holding down the Alt key and typing “0169” in order on the numeric keypad (not the numbers keys at the top of your laptop keyboard). Or use the Character Map. 

On a Mac keyboard, it’s “Option + G”.

Or you can just copy and paste the darned thing. (You should be able to copy it right out of this post.) In a pinch, a “C” in parentheses will do, “(c)”.

The last element is your name. Most of us can handle that.

In between is the copyright year, like so:

© 2019 Joe Photographer

The Copyright Office says that the year in the copyright notice should be the year of first publication. Or, lacking that, the year in which the work was created, or first distributed. At least that’s what they said back when the form of the notice really mattered.

Which date?

Usually, all three possible dates will fall in the same year. Worst-sort-of-likely-case goof-up, we’re talking about misrepresenting the term of the copyright by a year or so. Copyrights run for a really long time. You and your lawyer will both be long dead by the time your copyright runs out, so I wouldn’t really sweat it. If you’re interested, here is the Copyright Office on the term of copyright.

This is probably a good time for that disclaimer that says I’m not a copyright lawyer. If you have concerns that the CRO circular I linked to doesn’t take care of, contact your own lawyer. You do have one, right? Yeah, about that….

The important thing is to make sure we have a copyright notice on each and every piece of work we send out into the big wide world. While it is no longer necessary to ensure that our copyright is valid, the notice lets honest people know that a work has a copyright, and to whom that copyright belongs. (And dishonest people, too, for that matter.) That’s important.

And have I mentioned in the last couple of minutes that Google is finally onboard with this?

I advocate adding some simple contact information in the Copyright field of your template. It’s not strictly speaking a part of the copyright notice. But, considering that one of the main purposes of the notice is to alert potential users of the work to the identity of the copyright owner, a phone number or URL could be extremely helpful.

So we get something like:

© 2019 Joe Photographer

Which variable?

About that matter of using the variable for the year the photo was created, versus the year in which we’re working, I think it’s just a matter of workflow preference. Most of the time, it doesn’t matter.

I might not want to, or even be able to, invest the brain cycles to figure out for sure the year of first publication for a picture. First distribution is trickier still. But the create date I can get a grip on. It’s in the camera metadata from when the click happened. So, I go with the create date year. ({year4}) and adjust it if I need to.

Note that sometimes we do need to stop and think before we slap our template on any old frame we might shoot. Let’s say you copy a historical photo. Your template will put you down as both the creator and the copyright owner, neither one of which is true. Pretty embarrassing. And you don’t even have to ask: you know how I know this.

About those copyright notices our cameras write

Right now, somebody out there is remembering that they set a copyright notice in their camera. At some time. In the past. Probably, the distant past.

Taking a look at the metadata your camera is writing is probably in order. If nothing else, you can use the occasion to correct the camera’s clock setting. Cameras have terrible clocks. I guarantee yours, mine, and everybody else’s is pretty far off. (Photo Mechanic, by the way, has a sophisticated mechanism for synchronizing time stamps, if you ever need to do that.)

What I do, and your mileage may vary, is I don’t put the date in the camera’s Exif copyright notice in the first place.

(Note that a few camera models are capable of writing IPTC metadata. I’ll have more about that in a future post.)

Don’t worry

Remember that the form of a copyright notice isn’t critical to protecting our copyrights. The copyright notice’s mission nowadays is simply to let others know who owns the copyright. The year isn’t terribly helpful in that regard. Your phone number, on the other hand, won’t change from year to year, and it just might save the day.

Moreover, the Exif copyright notice isn’t really supposed to last. As soon as you apply your metadata template, your for-real copyright notice will be written as IPTC metadata – as it’s supposed to be. The Exif copyright notice will probably be overwritten with the IPTC one.

(This does not mean that you should delete the Exif data off your archive copies of your photos. You should keep it there. But on copies of the picture you distribute, particularly on the web, Exif metadata is usually a waste of space. Feel free to delete it from those copies.)

Photo Mechanic, by the way, does not overwrite data in the Exif. In Photo Mechanic, if there’s no value specified in the IPTC fields, the value from the Exif is read and written to the IPTC fields. If there’s a value specified in IPTC, that’s used and whatever is in Exif is left alone. It’s there as the camera originally wrote it. Bear that in mind if you’re using a borrowed camera.

The Exif version of the notice is just a fallback. Follow the path of least resistance. Make sure your camera is writing your copyright notice, as opposed to the guy who owned the camera before you, for instance, and then don’t sweat it. It is true that some programs prefer to read Exif data. But precious few can’t read the standards-compliant IPTC copyright notice.

For example

My own in-camera copyright notice looks like this:


If I still see all-caps on a finished picture, I know I’ve done something wrong.

(Remember that Google does not read the Exif copyright notice. If a picture doesn’t have an IPTC copyright notice, as far as Google Images is concerned, it doesn’t have a copyright notice.)

Go forth and …

People reading this blog are pretty likely to already be on the right track copyright metadata-wise. You’re only reading this post because you wanted to know about the cool variable automation thing, right?

This is the call to action part of the post and you’ve already got the important stuff under control. So, I have a different mission for you. Go find a photographer who isn’t yet putting a copyright notice on every single piece of work they create and distribute. Grasp them firmly and impress upon them how important it is that they get their stuff together and mark their work. Don’t take no for an answer.


Hopefully, Photo Mechanic’s variables feature can take one little piece of holiday season stress out of your life next New Year. I’ll have more tips about clever stuff that Photo Mechanic (and the other programs I cover) can do to make your life easier. Jump in the comments and let us know what you want your software to do for you.


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