Today, I’m going to explain copyright for photography and other creative works, and walk you through how to file a copyright for your photos with the U.S. copyright office.
I did a video a while back about people reposting images on Instagram without permission. Since then, this topic has been coming up more and more, and since there is so much confusion around copyright even amongst photographers, I thought it deserved some deeper discussion.
First of all, let me qualify by saying that I am not a lawyer. If you want legal advise and direction, please speak to a lawyer directly. Laws differ from region to region, and copyright is slightly different in different parts of the world.
What is copyright? Copyright is defined as:
the exclusive legal right, given to an originator or an assignee to print, publish, perform, film, or record literary, artistic, or musical material, and to authorize others to do the same.
Does your work need to be registered in order to be copyright? No.
The only time you would ever need to sign over shared rights is if you were doing a buyout (which means the company is buying the shared or exclusive copyright to the photos.) This should be done with extreme caution as this is not in the photographers best interest.
Usually when a client is requesting to own copyright, what they really mean is that they want unlimited usage.
They think copyright and unlimited usage are the same thing, and they are not. Unlimited usage gives them the rights to use the images for as long as they want, in as many places that they want. This should cost them a pretty penny to get… doing a buyout (purchasing ownership or copyright) should cost them a LOT. This is not something to be taken lightly, so definitely make sure you understand the difference yourself. Usually it just takes educating clients as to the difference between copyright ownership and usage rights. No need for them to pay the huge price to have something they just don’t need.
Does your work need to say it is copyright, in order for it to be copyright? NO
Your work is copyright the moment it is created. And nobody has the right to use your images without permission. PERIOD.
So, why register your work as copyright if it is already considered copyright?
By registering your work, you have legal proof that you are the rightful owner of the work. If you ever choose to take legal action against somebody using your images or original work, or if somebody else claims they own the copyright of your work, it would be possible to win the case without being registered, but it will take more time, resources and money to do so, and you you would likely not be able to seek damages of up to $150,000. By registering, you make this process much simpler.
To register your work, you will go to the United States Copyright office if you are in the United States… however no matter where you register, it will still be recognized in most other countries. Check this list to see where different countries stand on copyright law.
Watch the tutorial above in this post to follow the steps to register with the U.S. copyright office.
The video walks you through step by step how to set it up properly. As I mentioned, registering your copyright is a very important thing to do, but is often overlooked by photographers because it seems like a lot of work to keep up with…. not to mention tracking unauthorized usage on the internet.
Next week is going to change everything. Make sure you come back because not only will I show you how you can easily incorporate copyright into your workflow using something you are probably using every day… but also will solve the issue having to track the uses on your images.
If you want to mingle with like-minded photographers who are on the same journey you are, as well as getting more direct access to me and my trainings, be sure to join my FREE photography group on Facebook “The Commercial Photography Roadmap.” See you in there.