When your finger presses down on a camera’s shutter button and captures a photograph, that photo is instantly copyrighted with you as the rightful owner. However, there are benefits to formally registering your work with the United States Copyright Office. Today, we are going to take a look at the process involved in registering your visual artwork, along with the benefits of doing so and why you may want to consider it for photos you value.
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Why Copyright Your Photos?
Registering your photograph provides legal evidence of your ownership. In the event that someone does challenge whether you own the rights to an image, your registration will instantly weaken the opposition’s claims. What’s more, individuals who register are eligible to obtain statutory damages of up to $150,000 per infringement. Those who have not registered their work can still win a lawsuit but are only entitled to actual damages, which you’ll need to prove.
Two Ways to Register with the US Copyright Office
There are two primary methods of registering your works directly with the US Copyright Office. The first option is to file your copyright claim online via the official Copyright Office website, and the second is to fill out a form and mail in your application. According to the Copyright Office, general processing times for electronic filing and paper filing can take up to 8 months and 13 months, respectively. During the process, you’ll be able to check in on the status of your application.
It should be said that your copyright is valid in most countries throughout the world; however, for a full list of countries and whether or not they support US copyright law you can check this document:
A Step-by-Step Guide to Registering Your Copyright
We will be showcasing how to register a single photograph with a single author, which has a total fee of $35. For collections of work, works created by multiple authors, or if any special handling is required, your fees may vary.
We begin by visiting the official United States Copyright Office website. Click on the option that says ‘Register a Copyright.’ You will be prompted to log into the electronic copyright system. Assuming this is your first time, you will be required to create an account. Once your account is created, you will be transferred to your dashboard.
Begin by selecting ‘Register a New Claim’ on the left-hand side of your screen; it will be located under the ‘Copyright Registration’ section. Carefully answer the three yes or no questions to determine what process is required for your registration. In this case, we are registering only one work and we are the only author of the work, so we were able to check ‘Yes’ for all of the options. Read carefully before selecting your choices.
The first few steps will ask you to select your ‘Type of Work’ which, in this instance, is considered ‘Works of the Visual Arts.’ Next, we are asked to choose a title for our work and confirm that our work does not appear in a larger collection.
In this instance, our work has not been previously published, so we are asked to enter the year it was created. If your work has previously been published, make sure to indicate ‘Yes’ and fill out the additional details concerning the date and nation in which it occurred.
The next couple of pages will ask you to name the author and claimants of the work. Enter your name, along with your address, and the type of work you created to continue. It is possible to file an ‘anonymous’ copyright claim if desired.
If your work is based upon or contains previously registered materials, you must note it on the ‘Limitation of Claim’ page and then provide contact information for the owner of the registered materials on the ‘Rights and Permissions’ pages. In our instance, our work is entirely our own, so we can skip these sections.
Next, we are asked to fill out our personal details once again so that the Copyright Office may contact us if any questions arise during the claim filing. We hope you have memorized your personal information, because the next page will, once again, ask you for your name and address so they can ship you the registration certificate. Do not fill out both the ‘Individual’ and ‘Organization’ fields on the ‘Mail Certificate’ page. Only fill out the field that applies to you personally.
You will then be prompted if you require special handling, and for what “compelling reason(s)” you are requesting it. Unless you are in an extreme rush for legal reasons, you are going to want to skip this page. Filing a special handling fee for a single claim costs $800.
Certify your Copyright Claim on the next page and review your submission before adding it to your ‘cart’. It is important to note that if you misrepresent any information within the copyright forms you have filled out, you can be fined up to $2500, so double check your work!
From the ‘My Cart’ page, select the ‘Checkout’ button to finish the process. You are prompted to pay via a deposit account or credit card – choose your option. If you opt to use a credit card, you will be forwarded to pay.gov.
After completing your payment, you are asked to submit your work. You can either upload your photograph via the website or send your work in via the mail service. For a full list of the supported image formats, click here. We have opted to upload our photograph for a speedier and more convenient process.
And that is all for now! You should receive an email confirming your copyright registration claim. If all goes well, we will be receiving a formal copyright registration certificate within the next eight months. Remember, your work is not officially registered at this time, you have merely submitted the claim. You can check on the status of your copyright claim by logging back into the Copyright Office website and heading to your dashboard.
Congratulations, you are now on your way to having a photograph that’s officially registered with the United States government.