How to Register Your Images

Bonnie shares important information about how to protect your images by registering them with the Copyright Office.
By Bonnie Pelnar

How to Register Your Images with the Copyright Office

Part 4 in a series on Copyright

By Bonnie Pelnar



The Copyright Office is an office of record, a place where claims to copyright are registered and where documents relating to copyright may be recorded when the requirements of the copyright law are met. The Copyright Office furnishes information about the provisions of the copyright law and the procedures for making a registration, explains the operations and practices of the Copyright Office, and reports on facts found in the public records of the Office.


Registration is not difficult, but might be a bit confusing the first time. Read the instructions and samples they offer on the site. Once you've done it a couple of times the process is quite simple.

You can get all the information you need on the U.S. Copyright Office website at Since copyright applies to much more than just the photos and video we capture, you'll need to weed out what doesn't apply to your needs.


The Application & Filing Fee

An application for copyright registration contains three essential elements: a completed application form, a nonrefundable filing fee, and copies of the work being registered and deposited with the Copyright Office. The cost for registration can be between $35 and $65 depending on how you do it.

The simplest way is to register is by using the eCO Online System on the US Copyright Office website. The cost is only $35 and offers faster processing time, online status tracking, secure online payment, and the ability to submit your images electronically. The online option can be used under certain conditions, such as for unpublished work, work published only electronically, and published works submitted in a group. There are other restrictions, so be sure to read the instructions carefully.

Another option for registering basic claims is the fill-in Form CO. Using 2-d barcode scanning technology, the Office can process these forms much faster and more efficiently than paper forms completed manually. Simply complete Form CO on your personal computer, print it out, and mail it along with a check or money order and your deposit.

Paper versions of Form VA (visual arts works) are still available also. They are not available on the Copyright Office website; however, staff will send them to you by postal mail upon request.



Submitting Images

There are also several ways you can submit your images with the application. Using the eCO Online System you may upload images for submission, or send them after you submit the application on CD, DVD, or as prints. There is a list of acceptable file types on the Copyright website.

You may register your images as a "collection" using one application form and one fee if the collection is made up of unpublished works by the same author and owned by the same claimant; or the collection is made up of multiple published works contained in the same unit of publication (for example, personal website, Facebook, SmugMug, Sport Diver Magazine) and owned by the same claimant.


TIP: If you are using the online upload, have all your images resized to a suitable upload size, with file names organized before you begin the registration online. You don't need a high resolution sample of every image you submit. You can upload zipped files containing groups of images. You are given 60 minutes to upload images one line at a time, and times out at 30 minutes, so you'll want to use common sense to create realistic file sizes for upload.


How Long Will the Application Process Take?

The time needed to process an application varies depending on the amount of material the office is receiving and the method of application. Using the eCO system is fastest, taking about 3 months to process. If you choose alternative registration, don't be surprised if you don't hear anything from the copyright office for as long as a year from the time you send in your application.

Copyright registration is effective on the date the Copyright Office receives all required elements in acceptable form, regardless of how long it takes to process the application and mail the certificate of registration.



Bonnie Pelnar is an underwater photographer, producer, presenter, designer, teacher, and marketer 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 She is also a judge in this year's prestigious Ocean Art Photo Competition.



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