A commenter on the previous essay wants me to get down to brass tacks. Ok.
Suppose that I write down a copy of the melody "Londonderry Air" in the key of G. I have transposed it, and written it down. Do I have any copyright on this thing? Certainly not. That would be ridiculous and insane. Suppose that I arrange Londonerry Air in the key of G for 2 violins, a flute, and an electric guitar? That, interestingly, is copyrightable. The arrangement is, the melody is not.
The distinction here is the degree of creative act, or something.
Suppose, now, that I go out with my camera and stand in one of the usual places and take one of the usual pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge. Do I have a copyright? Well, the presumption is that I do. This, despite me having done the photographic equivalent of writing down a well known tune in the key of G. Could this copyright be broken? It's certainly possible that it could be. Do I have a right to this copyright, under either of the traditional rationales for intellectual property? I certainly do not.
I don't care if you worked super hard to make your copy of the same picture. I don't care that it's "your copy" of the same old picture. There is no creative act and therefore there is no intellectual property that belongs to you by any reasonable rationale. You pressed a button. You own a media card with some 1s and 0s on it, that is certainly yours. You do not really own the intellectual property which is that picture, any more than I own "Londonderry Air in the key of G". But see the sequel, it turns out that you may just as well.
If you take your photograph of the Golden Gate Bridge, and photoshop eagles all over it, you've got something. You've performed a creative act. You have, roughly, arranged Londonderry Air in the key of G for 12 kazoos. That is an atrocity, but a copyrightable atrocity. Well done.
Now, in practical terms and under the law, you may as well have a copyright of your stupid picture. You might complain if I "stole" it, so if I am sensible I will simply find some boob on flickr who will give me a copy of a picture that's pretty much identical to yours. This is an economic judgement on my part, and in no way reflects anything about intellectual property. Essentially, you have possession of a thing which you do not own, but arguing about it simply isn't worth my or anyone else's time.
Not every picture is a stupid copy of everyone's picture of the Golden Gate Bridge, to be sure. Lots of them are, basically, but there are lots of the other kind as well.
Pictures which I cannot trivially find a free or nearly free copy of are typically the ones that are actually deserving of copyright. So, in practical terms, we may as well assume that all pictures have a fully potent copyright.