3 Reasons Why Photographers Should Register EVERY Photograph with the U.S. Copyright Office

Alyssa M. Bruno, Esq.

Chair of Intellectual Property Group

If you are a professional photographer, do you file your work with the U.S. Copyright Office?  Do you do it before or shortly after you post your work online?  If your answer is no to either of those questions, then you are undercutting the level of copyright protection your work is entitled to.

Although you technically own a copyright to your work as soon as you fix it “in a tangible medium of expression” (i.e. take the photo), it is much easier to enforce and protect your rights if you take the additional steps to register your photographs with the U.S. Copyright Office.  Considering the current filing fee is only $55 per 750 photos, the protection provided by registration is well worth the cost.

Photographers who receive federal copyright protection enjoy the following advantages:

  1. Easier enforcement of IP rights.  If your work is copied, displayed, or distributed without your consent, you will have a much easier time enforcing your rights if your work is registered with the U.S. Copyright Office.
    • Example #1 – If you write a cease-and-desist letter to the party who is infringing, you will have a better shot at advancing settlement negotiations if you already possess a registered copyright.  Side note — cease-and-desist letters from lawyers tend to carry more weight.
    • Example #2 – Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), platforms like Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, Dribbble, Facebook, etc. must immediately take down any content that appears to infringe upon a valid copyright.  Proof of registration is not required to file a DMCA take-down notice; however, federal registration leaves no question as to who the original author of the work is, which means that the infringing work should be promptly removed.
  2. Prerequisite to filing a lawsuit.  A successfully registered copyright is a prerequisite to filing a federal lawsuit for copyright infringement.
  3. Potential to recover higher damages in an infringement lawsuit.  Attorneys’ fees and statutory damages (up to $150,000 per willful infringement of each photo) are only awarded if you register your work prior to the start of the infringement or within three months of the first date of publication.  The first date of publication is the date when you first displayed your work to the public.  If you do not register your work before the infringement took place or within the 3-month safe harbor window, then you are only eligible to recover the infringer’s profits and your actual damages resulting from the infringement.  Sometimes these damages are quite large; however, they are often challenging to prove.  You will have a huge advantage in settlement negotiations if your work is registered and qualifies for statutory damages.

Bottom Line

The bottom line is that you set the price every time you put your work out there.  So, you have the option of registering your photos now and locking in the potential to recover attorneys’ fees and statutory damages if your work is ever misappropriated.  Or, you can forego registration and just see what happens.  If foregoing registration is the route you choose to take, you may want to consider this — If you have an open-door policy where anyone can copy your work for free and/or a low settlement price… Why would people pay you more for it?

If you would like to schedule an appointment with the copyright attorneys at Bruno Law, call us at 610-258-4003 or fill out the Contact form.