Start regularly registering your photos with the copyright office!
I am sure this is something that you plan to get to someday, or maybe, there is just too much information out there that is confusing you. I actually heard some info a couple of weeks ago on a well-known podcast that was contrary to my understanding. I had to check my references to make sure my memory was not failing me. Well, let me get you pointed in the right direction.
A couple of years ago, I found a book that clarified things for me, the Photographer’s Survival Manual: A Legal Guide for Artists in the Digital Age (Lark Photography Book)
There is a lot of useful information in this book in addition to copyright, and I recommend you add it to your library.
The website The Copyright Zone is also a good resource.
In summary, you own the copyright the second you take the photo, and infringing on that copyright is illegal whether you register your work or not. But registering gives you more teeth in the legal system, and apparently lawyers will not take your case if you have not registered your image.
You can register your images online at the Electronic Copyright Office. Photos are registered by year and whether they are published or unpublished.
Published images are fully protected from infringement if they are registered within 3 months of the publish date. So if someone infringes one of your images in that 3 month window, it is as if you registered the image at the time of publishing. If someone infringes your image before you register, and you registered after the 3 month window, your payday for the infringement case may not be as lucrative.
An image is published anytime I sell a print or file or post something on the internet unless it is in a password protected gallery for a specific person. Tags such as “published year”, “registered as published”, and “registered as unpublished” with smart collections in Lightroom help to keep track of everything. I use a quarterly schedule to collect all my published images and register them in one batch. Oh, and just because you may miss the 3 month window from publishing does not mean you have an excuse to just not register that image. As long as you register prior to any infringement, you are still protected.
Unpublished images are collected and registered once at the end of the year.
Each registration is $35 for an unlimited number of images. So if I register published images quarterly, and unpublished annually, that is 5 x ($35) = $175/year. At a minimum, you can take a chance with the published images, and register them annually at $35 for published, $35 for unpublished, and a total of $70/year.
So there you have it. Registering your copyright is not difficult or expensive, so just start doing it!
I have been registering my images for the past 2 years, and I feel a little better about sharing my images on the internet as a result. I am still leery about the various implications of the terms of service on the social networks, especially with the recent Instragram discussions, but that is a discussion for another post.
I look forward to seeing you at our next meeting on January 22.
Have a great 2013!
President – Houston Photographic Society