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 do so in the US.
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.
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. Check your Facebook or Instagram account and see how many people follow your actions and like your photos. Having a large online following increases the risk of your photos being stolen.
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 the last time when 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. 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!
Registration? It’s easy!
‘Registration’ – oh, no! This word usually does not evoke a lot of enthusiasm and is associated with a long and winding road through tons of forms. Being an artist revolves around the creative process and paperwork is probably not your favourite thing to do but sometimes it simply cannot be avoided. In order to take good care of your work, you need to register it. Here is how to do so!
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 steps
There are three important parts to the registration: an application form, a non-refundable filing fee and a nonreturnable deposit (picture copies). 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. 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 check the up-to-date fees at www.copyright.gov.
During registration, it is also important to consider the number of pictures you want to register. A set of unpublished photos can be registered as a collection only if they are assembled in an orderly form and the elements are titled. When it comes to photographs that were already published, a single registration of a group of pictures can be made if all the photographs were taken by the same author, published in the same calendar year and have the same copyright claimants.
Make the best you can to protect your copyrights
At this point, you should pretty much know what to do. In case of more questions, you might find the answer in the FAQ section. 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.