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Benefits: Registering art works with the U.S. Copyright Office

Why is it so important to register my photographs with the U.S. Copyright Office?

Outlined below are some best practices for photographers to consider, especially fine art photographers.  Please note that this information is not legal advice, but rather serves as a broad overview concerning copyright issues pertaining to photographic works of art.  (For specific cases and questions, it is always best to seek legal advice from an attorney in your jurisdiction  who practices regularly in this practice area).  Obtaining a copyright registration affords you powerful tools to use against copyright infringers.  Ultimately, registering your images with the U.S. Copyright Office affords an artist certain benefits, outlined immediately below.

U.S. Copyright Law

United States copyright law does not require that the creator of a work register the work with the U.S. Copyright Office.  U.S. copyright law provides that when a work is created, the work is protected automatically by U.S. copyright law without the need to register the work or display a copyright notice.  Copyright protection generally attaches to a work the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible medium of expression.  The law considers something to be “fixed in a tangible medium” when it is embodied in a copy or phonorecord so that it can be perceived and reproduced, whether or not the author uses the “©” symbol or the copyright notice.  (This covers a wide range of media.  For example, words scribbled on a piece of scrap paper; when software loaded into a computer´s random access memory; or when a photograph is taken, are considered to be fixed in a tangible medium.)

Benefits of Copyright Registration

Often either photographers register their photographs incorrectly, or they completely fail to register them at all.  While registration is not required to obtain a copyright, there are several benefits to doing so and one should always register works that they wish to protect.  It is very important to read all of the U.S. Copyright forms correctly to ensure that you are completing the appropriate forms to ensure protection of your works of art.

United States copyright law provides the following valuable benefits to websites that register their copyrights:

  • By registering your copyright, you create a public record of your work and your copyright claim.
  • If somebody infringes on your website copyright, you may sue for copyright infringement.  Copyright registration is a prerequisite for filing an infringement claim in federal court with respect to works that originate in the United States.  If you want to sue an infringer and you have not registered your website, it will take four months or more after receiving your registration application before the U.S. Copyright Office issues a Certificate of Registration.
  • If you register your copyright before or within five (5) years of publication, the registration is evidence in court as to the validity of your copyright and of the facts stated in your U.S. Copyright Office registration certificate.
  • If you register your copyright within three (3) months after publishing it or before an infringement occurs, you may seek statutory damages and attorney’s fees in an infringement lawsuit.  For works of art that are not registered timely, the infringer is only liable for your actual damages and the infringer’s profits.

Additional Benefits of Copyright Registration

Besides making a public record of your protected art works, copyright registration has the very important benefit of allowing you to obtain statutory damages for infringement.  If the copyright is registered, however, the owner is entitled to statutory damages of $750.00 to $30,000.00 as determined by the court, even if actual damages cannot be proven.  If the copyright owner proves that infringement was willful, the court may award statutory damages of up to $150,000.00 per violation.

You cannot obtain attorneys’ fees for a copyright infringement action unless you registered your copyright before the copyright infringement first occurred, unless your registration is within three (3) months of first publication.

Another benefit of a registered copyright is that the copyright owner’s cease and desist letter will have substantially more “teeth” because the copyright owner has the ability to seek statutory damages and attorneys’ fees.  These two factors make it much more likely that the author of the art work(s) can convince an infringer to cease displaying infringing material without resorting to litigation.

Reflect Prior to Publishing Your Work

As a result, it is best to truly reflect on your work before publishing it in any form, including online publication.  For example, there are legal ramifications and ownership issues to consider when you post/publish your work on Facebook which, is entirely another “animal” in itself.  This is the major reason I decided not to have a Facebook page, Pintrest page, and Tumblr page for this blog, Biscuit’s Space and my website, Katherine Carver Photography.

I hope that you find this information helpful and provides an important aspect to consider prior to publishing your photographs or other works of art.

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