In today’s digital world, it has become crucial to register copyright for your images. Theft online is rampant, so you need to protect yourself and your work. Read on to find out why you should and how to copyright your photography.
What is Copyright?
Copyright protects the legal rights of the owner of intellectual property or work of art. In simple terms, copyright is the right to copy. As photographers, this means that only we as the original creators of our images, and anyone we give authorization to, are the only ones with the exclusive right to publish or otherwise reproduce our images.
The moment you click the shutter on your camera, you own the copyright to your images. No matter your level of skill, or whether you’re an amateur or a pro, your images are protected by law.
Keep in mind that copyright laws do vary from country to country, therefore the information in this article is general. It’s also meant for educational purposes since I’m not a lawyer and not qualified to give legal advice.
The lack of knowledge or education about copyright has caused a lot of problems in the photographic industry. Many new or emerging photographers are not educating their clients on copyright and usage, so clients assume they own their images and can do with them whatever they wish. To compound this problem, lawyers often advise their clients to always obtain copyright from the photographer, but in most cases, this is completely unnecessary, unless the client wants to sell the images and make a profit from them.
All of the big companies like Coca-Cola and McDonald’s never ask for copyright. They don’t need it. They license images for a specific use and time frame.
Any discussion about buying out copyright should include very large numbers.
What is published versus unpublished work?
There are two types of work that fall under Copyright: published and unpublished.
Digital media falls under copyright protection, but it has not been updated to be clear. Published works, in this case, are different from a patent, which covers inventions or discoveries, or trademarks, which covers designs, symbols, logos, and words.
To qualify as published, the work must be distributed to the public in some form, whether digital or print. There has to be some form of copies or multiples. A website or blog doesn’t qualify as published because your photos are not getting distributed. Social media is also considered unpublished. It is not distributed to the public in copies the way stock photos are, for example.
Why you should register your copyright
It’s an unfortunate by-product of living in today’s world that your images will get stolen. If you post any of your photography online, chances are that some will get stolen at one time or another. Some of this theft is due to the ignorance of the public, while others knowingly take your images without your permission, without paying for usage licensing.
Unfortunately, a lot of large companies do this, and there have been numerous high profile lawsuits where photographers have won hundreds of thousands of dollars for copyright infringement.
Filing copyright on your photos will protect you in the case you need to go to court to sue for statutory damages and lawyers fees. In a copyright infringement suit, a judge or jury can award you statutory damages as defined by the Copyright Act – thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars, if you can prove that your image was stolen with willful intent.
Photography is becoming more commoditized, but there is still immense value in it because it allows companies to make a profit by advertising their products. If someone is trying to gain financially by selling a product with stolen images, that is a big problem. Think of it this way: it’s not just the images that are stolen; it’s also the profit of the photographer.
When you don’t charge for usage, or go after those who are using your images unlawfully, that’s money out of your pocket. And what’s worse, you may actually be struggling to pay your overhead and make a profit in the first place.
How to file for Copyright
Filing for copyright can be a bit tedious, but it can be done online fairly simply. For example, as I’m based in Canada, I Googled “Canadian Copyright Office” and easily found the website for the intellectual property office. I have registered photographs and even a photography eBook I sell on my blog online very easily.
Some countries have agreements with the U.S. to enforce U.S. copyright laws. It’s often useful to register your copyright in the U.S. even if you’re not a U.S. citizen, to obtain the statutory benefits of registration in the United States.
Ideally, you should copyright any images before they are published, but you can copyright them at any time. You can even copyright them after you’ve discovered an unlawful use of one of your images. It will just be a bit more complicated from a documentation standpoint.
The cost of registering copyright varies from country to country. In Canada, it’s $50, and in the U.S., it’s currently $55 for a group of images. You can copyright your images as a group, to a maximum of 750.
For more information about registering photographs with the U.S. Copyright Office, go here.
The portal is fairly simple to use, but this resource will give you more information. You have to upload a .jpeg for each image you’re copyrighting, and submit a title list in an Excel spreadsheet. The preference is that these items be submitted in a .zip file.
Research the copyright laws in your country. Although in many countries like Canada and the U.S. copyright is immediate upon creation of a work, you still have to register copyright before you can sue.
Conversely, in Australia, there is no formal copyright registration system. The law ensures that certain forms of expression are automatically covered under the Copyright Act.
To sum up
Copyright is something that a lot of people don’t understand – even clients. It’s important to educate yourself and those you work with on the ins-and-outs of copyright. As I mentioned, laws vary from country to country, but you can find a lot of this information online. It’s crucial to protect yourself and your work.
Do you have any other tips on how to copyright your photography? Have you had your images stolen? If so, share with us in the comments below.