This article was originally published on December 19, 2018
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.
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 :
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Read here how to register your photographs in 5 STEPS.