©Natalie Fobes 2009
Registering your copyright on your photographs is the big hammer of your business tool belt. While it doesn’t protect you against unauthorized use of your images, it does give you more benefits if you ever have to go to court to collect compensation.
The moment your shutter opens your image is copyrighted. The only exception to this is if you have signed a contract giving your copyright away to the entity that has hired you.
So why should you register your images? Because if an infringement occurs and the photographer takes the case to court you can seek two remedies: statutory damages and reimbursement of attorneys’ fees. Otherwise you are stuck trying to prove actual damages that may be determined to be only the sum the defendant should have paid as a licensing fee in the first place. This is hardly enough to cover one hour of a hot shot lawyer’s fee.
The myths of copyright:
Myth 1: Displaying the copyright symbol is all the protection you need. False. The symbol does alert the viewer that the image is copyrighted. In this day of digital manipulation that symbol can easily be removed. If you do find an infraction you will not be able to seek damages and reimbursement of attorneys’ fees.
Myth 2: Registering copyright is time consuming. False. if you build it into your workflow and register it before publication or within three months of publication of any of the photographs. You can fill out the forms online if you have the full version of Adobe PDF and save a version. Or make one copy with all the basic information and then copy that whenever you are registering new images.
Myth 3: Registering copyright is expensive. False. I have registered literally thousands of images at one time for one fee. A dvd holds a lot of thumbnail jpgs.
Myth 4: If you find an infringement you should take them to court immediately. False. Suing for copyright violation is the last resort. If your paperwork is in order, if your image is registered, if the circumstances don’t constitute fair use, if the circumstances don’t constitute innocent use, then the first phone call should be to the infringing party to negotiate a fee for the usage. Copyright infringement is not the ticket to the waterfront condo in Maui. It is a tough battle that can stretch for years.
Bellevue attorney Bruce Gardiner suggests that the best way to prevent copyright infringement with clients that have licensed your work is to clearly state the license on the paperwork, include a clause stating that if the image is used outside of the license then the fees will be triple and then have the client sign it. He says unauthorized use then becomes a contract dispute and not a copyright issue. Contract disputes are easier to litigate.
Every one of you will experience unauthorized use of your photographs during your career. You will give yourself a lot better chance of recovering some compensation for the use if your images are registered. Even then you will have to decide if it is worth the time, energy and money pursuing compensation.
The process of registering your copyright
It is simple if you are registering unpublished works.
You can do it the old-fashioned way by downloading the form, burning a disk with your images, writing a check and fed-exing to the Copyright Registrar. Or take advantage of online registration.
Go to http://www.copyright.gov , click on the eco icon for information. Once you are signed up you will receive a login. To begin the registration process click on “register a new claim.” The first time you register you will have to fill out a number of pages. Remember to save the template by checking the appropriate box under copyright services located on the right. Follow the instructions. Pay with a credit card.
Your files should have already been prepped as small jpgs. Title the folder with your name and information that will help you remember what it is. For example: I title the folder based on when I’m registering. 2009_1_Fobes. Then create a zipped file by selecting the folder go to File>compress folder name. DO NOT add .zip to the end of the title. You must keep the upload less than 30 minutes or it won’t upload. My connection requires that I keep the folders less than 150 MB. Yours may be different. Watch the progress bar when you first start uploading. If it says it is under 30 minutes continue with the upload. If it is more, adjust the size of the folder.
The challenges are to make registering your copyright a part of your workflow, to keep track of when you registered a collection and to know what is in the collection. When I register I make a cd or dvd of the images and staple that sleeve to a copy of the form.
Some photographers register every week. I register images every quarter. My collection title is then 2009_1_ Fobes. One exception to this is that if I’m shooting an assignment I make sure the photos are registered before the publication.
Regardless of how you choose to register your images, just do it.
For more information: ASMP, PDN, Copyright office, Editorial Photographers, Seth Resnick