Copyright protection with photography and other mediums has been in the news within the past year due to the Orphan Works legislation in front of Congress at this time. Both the House and Senate have their own versions of the bills which are in committee. More specific information on the Orphan Works Act may be found at the US Copyright Office as well as by reading the proposed bills H.R. 5889 or S. 2913 in their current state. If you don’t want to read those, I will say in short this legislation states copyrighted work becomes an orphan work if the copyright owner is unable to be contacted. If the work is then released into public domain is something still to be decided by the proposed legislation.
So what can be done in order to help maintain your copyright with your work. Once you click the shutter of a camera in most instances you have a copyright on that image, however until you register it with the United States Copyright Office you do not get full protection. One of the main instances where you do not have the copyright is if you are hired as Work for Hire, in this case the hiring party owns the copyright however you should seek additional information to see how this applied to you. If you do have the copyright and are able to register your work with the copyright office, if you ever come across a misuse of your work you may file a lawsuit asking for damages. While registering with the copyright office will give you the additional protection, it is still your responsibility to find the parties which infringe on your work. This can be difficult in these days especially with images being on the internet.
When registering your images you must group them together by published and unpublished works. If you are able to submit your images quickly you will be able to batch them together as unpublished which is a little bit easier. More information on this can be found at the Copyright office as well as at the sites mentioned below.
While at first the process to register your works may look difficult it is pretty straight forward if you use some of the tutorials available on the internet to guide you through the process. One such site is the American Society of Media Photographers which provides a tutorial telling you why you should register your images and walk you through the various steps including what can be done if you do find an infringement of your work. The Editorial Photographers website also provides some helpful information and should be checked out. Both of these are available to non-members at no cost.
Registering a work has just become easier with the roll out of the Electronic Copyright Office allowing you to pay the fee and upload your submission versus sending it to the office. Works submitted online will be processed sooner than those by mail as well, in addition to receive a $10 savings at the time of this post. One thing to watch out for if you use eCO is the session for the upload will timeout after 30 minutes. If you are sending a good amount of images it is best to compress them into multiple zip files and upload those files at the same time to get around this timeout issue. Once you register the images and they have been processed and accepted you will receive a certificate in the mail, however you should also print out all of your documentation during the process to have as backup as well.
The above information is just a quick overview on copyright registration. Another helpful website you should check out and add to your RSS reader is Photo Attorney . Here you will find blog posts about relevant legal topics and if you search on copyright in the archives you will find a wealth of information.
Lastly, the information found in this post is only informational and should not be considered legal advice. I recommend you do additional ressearch with some of the sites listed above as well as talk to your own attorney if you have specific questions. Also for those readers not in the United States the laws in your specific countries will differ and you should check with your own copyright office or attorney to find out the details which you should be aware of in regards to your work.