Why Register Your Images with the Copyright Office?
Part 3 in a series on Copyright
By Bonnie Pelnar
Copyright exists from the moment the work is created, but registration with the copyright office is optional. It is not a legal requirement. Delaying registration will limit the amount of damages that could be awarded to you if you did sue someone for infringement.
Reasons you might want to register your images are:
• It creates a public record that establishes you as the copyright owner and eliminates the burden of proof if someone else claims your work as their own.
• Registration gives you powerful ammunition against an infringer.
• Registration is required if you intend to file a lawsuit for infringement.
• Your registration certificate is evidence of the validity of your copyright.
• You can collect statutory damages and ask for attorney fees.
To file a copyright infringement lawsuit is very, very expensive. You must retain an attorney to file the suit in Federal Court, because copyright is enforced by Federal Law. Hopefully you'll never need to do this.
Most copyright cases are settled between the photographer and the infringer. A settlement could mean anything from an apology to a payment of thousands of dollars in lieu of expensive legal action. I'll offer some suggestions on how to determine the value of a photo and collect fair settlements in a upcoming articles.
Even if you never have to hire an attorney, having registered your images with the copyright office gives you a lot more power when trying to negotiate a settlement, because the consequences to the infringer are much greater than if you did not register your images.
There are also benefits to having registered your images before or very soon after you publish them. If you registered within three months of publication or before an infringement occurs, winning a copyright lawsuit could result in statutory damages of up to $150,000 plus attorney's fees, even if your actual damages are minimal. If you have published them and not registered them, you cannot collect statutory damages.
Registering does not stop people from stealing your images but it does give you a lot more negotiation power if someone worth going after does infringe your copyright.
Say for example, that you just got back from an epic trip to Guadalupe Island and came back with hundreds of outstanding great white shark pictures. Before you rush home to post them to your website, you take the time and pay the $35 to upload that batch of images to register them with the copyright office. At this point they are "unpublished" works. From the time your submission is received at the copyright office, you are officially registered and now you can start the process of showing off.
Even though you took the time to register the images and put a copyright notice on each image, and used java scripts and other electronic means to deter the download of the image, your favorite great white shark images show up on some website promoting their new line of shark fin soup. Are you angry yet? How you proceed at this point could make the difference between a big settlement or you getting nothing at all.
In upcoming articles I'll share with you what has worked for me and what has blown up. For the time being you might want to start organizing the images you plan to register with the copyright office.
THE INTENT OF THIS ARTICLE IS NOT TO PROVIDE LEGAL ADVISE AND SHOULD NOT BE USED AS SUCH. IF YOUR COPYRIGHT HAS BEEN INFRINGED UPON, WE SUGGEST YOU CONTACT AN ATTORNEY.
Bonnie Pelnar is an underwater photographer, producer, presenter, designer, teacher, and marketeer for the dive and travel industry for over 16 years. She conducts photography workshops at tropical destinations around the world. You can read more about her work, her workshops, and her photo tours at http://www.underwatercolours.com.