I spent several days trying to sort through the process for officially registering a set of images with the U.S. Copyright Office. An implicit copyright belongs to the photographer (most of the time), but registering with the Copyright Office further improves your protection, should you ever need to take legal action against an infringer.
Fortunately, the Copyright Office allows you to register any number of images at once—a single fee— but it does not allow you to submit published and unpublished works in the same collection; yet they do not define, very thoroughly, what constitutes a published work. Because laws always lag behind technology, they have not been updated to address Internet photo postings. I had posted some images on Facebook (and my personal Facebook page) and on my blog.
How To Register Images with the Copyright Office
I was going to detail each step of the copyrighting process, but ASMP‘s Step by step tutorial for online registration already documents it thoroughly. Instead, I will simply note some issues that took me a little digging to find.
- Photographs fall under the category “Work of the Visual Arts” according to the US Copyright office.
- You will need to distinguish between published and unpublished images.
- Most experts consider that the public posting of images (on Facebook, Instagram, blog, etc.) to be considered “published.”
- For unpublished, images, their copyright date is the date that the images were taken.
- For published images, registered within 3-months of their creation, their copyright date is their date of creation.
- For published images, registered more than 3-months after their creation, their copyright date is the date of registration.
- Any number of images that can be submitted to the Copyright Office, limited by their upload time of 1-hour (the images can be “zipped” into a single file or sets of files).
- Many photographers make it a habit to register their images every 3-months in aggregates.
- The U.S. Copyright Office has a strict list of password requirements, when creating an account, but they do not state a maximum password length; if you are having a problem creating your account, try a shorter password (I had trouble creating an account until I truncated my password to 8-characters).
- US Copyright Office — index of notes, definitions, and instructions
- “Copyright Basics” — US Copyright Office
- “Copyright Registration Pictorial, Graphic, Sculptural Works” — US Copyright Office
- “Jarvis v. K2” — Chase Jarvis Blog
- “Registering Your Copyrights Using the eCO System“
- “Photography and Copyright Law” — Ken Kaminesky Photography Blog