Home » Photo theft - Knowledge Base » How to Register an Artwork in the US

Are you a landscape photographer? Maybe you take pictures of food or clothes?

No matter what is your pick you need to register your artworks in order to protect or claim your rights. Learn how to copyright an image in the US. Wait no longer, take care of proper photo protection.

© 3D vector

Breath-taking views, mouth-watering dishes, must–wear clothing… No wonder people crave, want to share, repost and, unfortunately, sometimes, also steal such images. Now take a look at your pictures.  If these have a mass or commercial appeal, you should be conscious and take certain precautions –  unless you want to find a mug or a bag with your picture printed on it while doing online shopping.

Let’s start with a couple of frequently asked questions :

© MuchMania

Should I register my artwork?

You may wonder if artists should register every single piece they create? The answer is ‘probably no’. Not that many artists are at risk of getting their artworks stolen. Especially if they are focused on more abstract works with a limited commercial appeal. However, being a photographer is a different story.

Do my pictures have the potential for being stolen?

If you are wondering if your pictures have a high chance of getting stolen. Check your Facebook or Instagram account and see how many people follow your activity and like your photos. Having a large online audience increases the risk. If you have a website that ranks quite high in Google and it is your images that pop up in Google Image Search when searching for specific keywords, your pictures might be being used without your consent.

Is copyright registration necessary?

Copyright is a basic right and a form of protection provided by the law to all the creators of original works. Being an owner, you have the exclusive right to make copies, display and sell your pictures. Nobody else can do so unless they have permission from the creator or someone who has derived rights through him/her. As soon as the work is created, it is already protected by copyright and, technically, neither publication nor registration in the Copyright Office is required but there are certain advantages of doing it.

Do I need to register every single picture I take?

This really depends on the type of photographs you take but the answer is ‘probably no’. It is important to check if the pictures have a commercial appeal – if so, then it is worth to register them. If they are more abstract, then the chance of being stolen is lower and registration can be skipped.


Imagine a situation when you are on your way to grab a cup of coffee at your favourite café and you spot someone wearing a t-shirt with a print which looks strangely like the picture you took last time you were in New York. Probably, your eyes do not fool you so you might be 99% sure that it was actually your picture.

The thing is, you do not remember signing any agreements with agencies or shops and selling them the right to your pictures. Unfortunately, you also cannot recall registering your works which means that you are limited to calculate the damages by basing them on the infringer’s profits.

You start wondering how many such t-shirts might have already been sold, how much money someone made on your pictures and how much you might have lost. If only you had registered your artworks, you would have been entitled to statutory damages. In the United States, statutory damages are set out in 17 U.S.C. § 504 of the U.S. Code.

Statutory damages

The basic level of damages is between $750 and $30,000 per work, at the discretion of the court. Under 17 U.S.C. § 412, statutory damages are only available if you register the copyrights on art before the infringement. What is more, without prior registration, the date of the creation can be questioned. The infringers may claim that they took the picture before you did. Well, this is not the brightest morning. You may blame it on Monday, but you definitely do not need more days like this. It is high time to act and register your copyright!

© elnur

Register your photographs in 5 STEPS

Registration – this word is often associated with a long and winding road through tons of forms. Being a photographer revolves around the creative process and paperwork is probably not your favourite thing to do but sometimes it simply cannot be avoided. To take good care of your work, you need to register it. The registration with our guide should go smooth*.

Copyright is a basic right and a form of protection provided by U.S. law to all the authors of original works. Being an owner, you have the exclusive right to make copies, display and sell your pictures. Nobody else is allowed to do so unless they have permission from the author or someone who has derived rights through the author. As soon as the work is created, it is already protected by copyright and, technically, neither publication nor registration in the Copyright Office is required but, as mentioned above, there are certain advantages of doing it.

Follow the 5 steps

There are three important parts to the registration: an application form, a non-refundable filing fee and a nonreturnable deposit (picture copies).

1.Choose the photos you want to register.

Pick the number of photos you want to register. Choose the application designated for ’Published Photographs‘. You can register up to 750 photographs. Select the link for “Register a Group of Photographs”.

Be careful with the unpublished photos – for these a separate application needs to be picked. Select the link for “Register a Group of Unpublished Photographs”. Likewise, you can register up to 750 unpublished photos.

2.Decide on the way you want to apply.

You may apply in two ways: digital and analogue. Online registration through the electronic Copyright Office is faster and cheaper – the proceeding time should be shorter and the fee is lower. You can also track the online status of your application.

3.Go to the registration page

In order to apply, go directly to the US Copyright Office website and click on ‘Register a Copyright’. If you trust paper forms more, you can also access them on the website. Once downloaded, the papers can be either completed on your computer or printed and completed by hand. Filled formulas should be mailed with a check or money order and a deposit. Do not take Copyright Office fees for granted – they change every now and then. You can always check the up-to-date fees here.

4.Fill in the application 

Filling the application should be rather simple and intuitive but in case of any doubts, there are tutorials available.

  • Click here to watch a video tutorial for the application for ’Published Photographs’.
  • Click here to watch a video that provides step-by-step instructions for completing the application for ‘Unpublished Photographs’.

5.Submit application

Submit a completed application form, and a nonreturnable copy or copies of the work to be registered. You do not need to use your real name on the application form, a fictional name or a pseudonym are also acceptable. Be aware that when you register your claim to a copyright in a work with the US Copyright Office all the information provided is made public and will be available online. The amount of time it takes for the Copyright Office to process the application depends on the number of applications received and the extent of questions associated with the application.

That’s it! You made the first big step towards having your work protected. We hope you found the guide helpful! In case there are still some questions or doubts on your mind, feel free to message us at service@photoclaim.com. Our team of copyrights experts will be happy to provide you with additional info.

© niroworld

Make the best you can to protect your copyrights

Besides registering your work, it is also important to take every possible step in order to prevent copyright infringement and make people aware of the fact that your artworks are protected by copyright. In order to do so, you should go to your website and put a statement there saying that all the images are copyright protected. Such notice should include the copyright symbol, the year and your name. Once you have this covered and all of your artworks are registered, you should just go through one more registration form… and sign up with PhotoClaim. Taking your experience with registering artworks in the US into account, this should be a piece of cake. Check it out here!

The article was published on December 19, 2018, minor changes in the process of registration are possible.  

Important UPDATE ! (effective on March 15, 2019)

The U.S. Copyright Office has issued a technical amendment to the rules governing “Registration of Groups of Published Photographs” and “Registration of Unpublished Photographs.” The amendment removes the following obligation:  “The file name for a particular photograph may consist of letters, numbers, and spaces, but the file name should not contain any other form of punctuation.” which means that the applicants may now include hyphens, underscores or other punctuation in the file names for deposit copies submitted with a group registration application.

your copyrights
*The following steps cover the registration in the US Copyright Office. In case you are not based in the US and you wonder if foreigners can register their work in the US, here is what can be read on the official Copyright Office page: Any work that is protected by U.S. copyright law can be registered. This includes many works of foreign origin. All works that are unpublished, regardless of the nationality of the author, are protected in the United States. Works that are first published in the United States or in a country with which we have a copyright treaty or that are created by a citizen or domiciliary of a country with which we have a copyright treaty are also protected and may therefore be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. See Circular 38a, International Copyright Relations of the United States, for the status of specific countries, and Circular 38b, Copyright Restoration Under the URAA
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