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Suppose I collect three or four public domain images, modify them, build upon them and put them together to form an image that I can claim as my own.

Then I purchase an image from some online site like DepositPhotos or Adobe Stock, modify it and add it to the larger image.

I can no longer claim copyright because my image includes an image licensed by someone else (e.g. Adobe Stock), even if they don't require me to give credit.

So how can I protect the rest of the image - the portion I created? Can I say "This image is copyrighted by me EXCEPT for the gold star, which belongs to Adobe Stock"?

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The premise of your question is incorrect:

I can no longer claim copyright because my image includes an image licensed by someone else (e.g. Adobe Stock), even if they don't require me to give credit.

Wikipedia has this to say about derivative works:

In copyright law, a derivative work is an expressive creation that includes major copyright-protected elements of an original, previously created first work (the underlying work). The derivative work becomes a second, separate work independent in form from the first. The transformation, modification or adaptation of the work must be substantial and bear its author's personality sufficiently to be original and thus protected by copyright. Translations, cinematic adaptations and musical arrangements are common types of derivative works.

It goes on to quote material from the Berne convention and US law. From the former:

Translations, adaptations, arrangements of music and other alterations of a literary or artistic work shall be protected as original works without prejudice to the copyright in the original work.

From the latter:

The copyright in a compilation or derivative work extends only to the material contributed by the author of such work, as distinguished from the preexisting material employed in the work, and does not imply any exclusive right in the preexisting material. The copyright in such work is independent of, and does not affect or enlarge the scope, duration, ownership, or subsistence of, any copyright protection in the preexisting material.

Therefore, the answer to your question

How can I protect the rest of the image - the portion I created?

By copyright. You don't need to disclaim copyright in the source material of your derivative work explicitly; you don't have that right anyway, regardless of what you say. On the other hand, you certainly can disclaim it. It is common to reproduce the copyright notice of source material, however.

The specific requirement will depend on the terms of the license under which you are using the source material; in your example this would be the Adobe Stock license (pdf), which says

4.1 General restrictions. You must not:

(g) remove, obscure or alter any proprietary notices associated with the Works

If the work is subject to "editorial use only" then there are additional restrictions.

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  • Very informative answer, though it still isn't clear to me how I should form my credit. Should I just say "Copyright Joe Blow," even if Adobe says you can't copyright an image that contains an Adobe image? – David Blomstrom Oct 22 '18 at 14:39
  • @DavidBlomstrom it's not for Adobe to say whether you can copyright an image that contains an Adobe image; only copyright law can say that. A copyright owner or licensor can prohibit you from creating a derivative work, and they can allow you to create a derivative work subject to certain conditions, including conditions that require you to license the derivative work to others in a certain way, but they cannot prevent you from having copyright in the derivative work. – phoog Oct 22 '18 at 15:02
  • Ah, now I understand what you're saying. I can just say "Copyright by Me." It may be a moot question, because they still own THEIR original image, anyway, and it's hard to understand how my claiming ownership of one copy of their work could hurt them financially. – David Blomstrom Oct 22 '18 at 15:13
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    You cna and should say "copyright 2018 DB" or the like. If the stock image has its own copyright notice, you may need to include that. If the license from the stock image source has specific wording that you are required to use as part of your notice, you must comply. You MAY, but need not, additionally state "Gold Star from STOCK IMAGES" (using the correct name for the source). This makes it clear that you are not trying to claim what you have no rights to. Your claim could hurt them if someone copied their image from your work, in ignorance of their rights. – David Siegel Oct 22 '18 at 16:45

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