Registering your images with the U.S. Copyright Office is a critical step in your image management workflow. Just like proper image archiving, registration ensures a protected future for your work.
- You have the full weight of the law on your side if you are infringed.
- You can file an infringement suit.
- You can more easily secure an attorney to take your infringement case.
- If you register your work prior to infringement (or within three months of first publication), you can ask for statutory damages and attorney fees if you win an infringement case.
- You can use your registration as leverage to get paid by defaulting clients.
- You have added protection against anyone claiming your work is an "orphaned" work.
- You are adding value to the services you provide your clients by protecting the investment they have made.
The best time to register your photographs is prior to any distribution of the images. This ensures you have the full weight of the law behind you and, additionally, the registration process is far easier and less expensive. These steps outline how to register "unpublished" work — our recommended best practice.
Register your work before it is "published."
Published and unpublished works have to be filed in separate registrations. Defining what is "published" or "unpublished" can be a matter of interpretation, so the best method is to register your work prior to any distribution or other use.
Create a thumbnail size digital file of each image you want to register.
The Copyright Office requires a "deposit" or copy of each image you register. We recommend a jpeg thumbnail that is approximately 600 pixels x 600 pixels. The key is that the image must be recognizable; for example, an intricate landscape image might need a larger file size than a traditional portrait. We recommend you use your established naming convention for each image file you are registering. Embed the registration number or date of registration into your digital file. There is no limit on the number of photographs you can register in one registration.
Put the thumbnails in a folder and create a Zip file.
Current maximum uploads are 11.3 MB for 56k modem and 405 MB for 2mbps optical cable. If the size exceeds the size allowed for your Internet connection, break the thumbnails up into multiple folders.
Name the folder of images you are registering.
The name can be anything you like, but you should develop a system for your business to make it easy for you to indentify which images are in a particular registration. ASMP recommends using the date and specific project name, for example "January 2009, ABC Company Annual Report." Or, if registering images from multiple projects and/or personal work, simply use the dates covered. For example, "200 unpublished images January 2009." Do not call your registration a "collection"; this may have a negative impact on the independent economic value of your images should you end up in an infringement case.
Go to the Copyright Office's on-line registration system, eCO.
Mac users need to use Firefox browser to successfully access eCO. If this is your first time using the eCO system, you will need to register, creating a username and password. After you are signed in, click on "Register a New Claim" under Copyright Services in the right hand navigation.
Read ASMP's step-by-step screen shot tutorial for tips on filling out the online application.
Pay the registration fee.
Fee is currently $35 for online registration. Go here for ASMP's step screen shot tutorial on making the payment.
Submit the deposit requirement.
Upload the ZIP file of previously prepared thumbnails. Go here for ASMP's step by step screen shot tutorial on uploading the images. You can use multiple upload sessions if necessary. The effective registration date is the date of the last upload record.
Receive your Certificate of Registration in the mail.
This can take months. You can check the status of your registration by signing into your account on the eCO system and going to "Open Cases" in the menu on the right.
For a comprehensive guide to the history of copyright, registering published images and steps to follow if you work is infringed, go to the ASMP Copyright Tutorial.