What’s the point of copyrighting photos? These days, it seems like photos get shared all across the corners of the internet, and usually without the proper credit attached. (Sidenote: That’s why all of our blog posts have photo credit links.)
If you’ve ever gone to the trouble to style, frame, shoot, and edit photos that you’re proud of, you’ll almost definitely want to get their copyrights registered with the US Copyright Office.
Because that way, if someone from a far-off land swipes your copyrighted image without permission and starts making money off it, you’ll have everything in place to calmly and swiftly get your cut of the cash.
Let’s go through the process of copyrighting photos–or rather, registering your copyrights.
STEP 1: Log into the Electronic Copyright Office (eCO) registration website
This is the same first step you take when you register blog posts with the copyright office. Go to copyright.gov and click the giant “Register a Copyright” button, and then the blue “Log In To The Electronic Copyright Office (eCO) Registration System” button.
If you’re a new visitor, you’ll need to register. (If you’ve registered copyrights before, you can go ahead and log in with your old information.)
Registration is fast–it only takes about 30 seconds. There will be two screens–the first has you fill in your name, email address, username, and a password. (IMPORTANT NOTE: passwords require 2 capitalized characters, 1 number, and 1 special character.)
On the second screen, you’ll fill in your postal address, phone number, and preferred contact method.
This registration process makes Step 4 way easier. For a few of the screens, you can simply click “Add Me” instead of typing in your personal information over and over.
STEP 2: Choose new claim registry
Select “Register a new claim” under “Copyright Registration” on the left-hand side of the screen.
STEP 3: Answer the preliminary questions about copyrighting photos
You’ll see three questions before you start your registration.
1. Are you registering one work?
If you’re registering a single photo, the answer is NO. If you’re registering a group of photos, the answer is YES.
2. Are you the only author and owner of the work?
If you’re the photographer, then, presumably, YES.
3. Does the work you are sending contain material created only by this author?
Again, if you’re the photographer, then YES.
We could get into the semantics behind photographing artwork or other people’s photos, but that’s something artists like Louise Lawler have been playing with for decades. So philosophical debate aside, if you took the photo, it’s your photo.
STEP 4: Complete the eCO checklist (12 screens)
The left side of the eCO (electronic copyright office website) will show you a checklist. We’ll walk you through each screen–no need to feel intimidated.
1/12: Type of Work
Select “Work of the Visual Arts,” and then click the box to confirm that you selected the right type of work.
If you’re registering a photo series, you’ll want to register the photo series first under “Title of Work Being Registered,” and then register all the individual photo titles under “Contents Tites.”
If you’re just registering a single photo, just “Title of Work Being Registered” is fine.
NOTE: Whenever you name something, we recommend this naming convention– “[Photo or photo series name], [Date of creation]”. For example, “Field of roses, Nov 13 2017”. If you don’t have a specific day that the piece was finished, just get as close as you can.
If you’re registering a photo series:
- First, click “New.”
- Under “Title Type,” select “Title of Work Being Registered.”
- Click “Save,” and then click “New” to start naming your individual photos.
- Under “Title Type,” select “Contents Title,” and name your first photo in the series.
- Click “Save,” and repeat the “Contents Title” step until each photo title in the series has been entered.
When you’re done naming your photo series or your single photo, click “Continue.”
Has your photo been published? If it’s been hiding away on your hard drive, away from everyone’s prying eyes, then the answer is “no.” If it’s been in a magazine, on a website, or on YOUR website or blog, the answer is YES.
If you select “Yes,” fill out the year of completion (the year you took the photo), the date of publication, and the country in which it was published. Click “Next.”
If you’re the author (i.e. photographer), this is where the “Add Me” button comes into play! It’s over on the right side of the page. Click it.
On the next screen, you’ll have to check a box that says what you, as an author, made. Since you’re registering a photo, check the “photograph” box.
If you’re adding another author, click “New,” complete the required info, and click “Save.”
If there are more authors you need to add, repeat that step. Otherwise, click “Continue.”
If you are the “author” and owner of this photo, you’re the claimant. Click “Add Me” and click “Save.”
6/12: Limitation of Claim
Let’s say, hypothetically, you took an awesome photo of the Empire State Building, and this is the photo you want to copyright. You didn’t design the Empire State Building, presumably. So you want to EXCLUDE that from your copyright registration.
In the left column, under “Material Excluded,” you’d pick “Architectural work.” This is what you’re not registering–you’re excluding it from the copyright registration process.
On the right side, under “New Material Included,” you’d pick the thing you’re registering–the thing YOU own. That’s your photo. Check “photograph.”
Of course, if you’re copyrighting photos that are, say, portraits, or photos of your dog, there’s no need to exclude any works by anyone else. Skip the left column entirely and just click “Photograph” and “Continue.”
7/12: Rights & Permissions
We recommend you skip this step because any info you provide here will become public knowledge. Unfortunately, that means spammers will target you, and nobody wants that. Just click “Continue.”
THIS section, on the other hand, is one that you NEED to complete because it ensures that someone from the US Copyright Office can contact you if they have any questions. So if something is wrong with your application, they can tell you, and you can fix it.
You can click “Add Me,” or enter the information manually. Click “Continue.”
9/12: Mail Certificate
This is where you’ll get your certificate mailed. If the address you used in your registration is your mailing address, click “Add Me.” Otherwise, enter the mailing address you want and click “Continue.”
10/12: Special Handling
Special Handling is optional–this is another screen we recommend you skip. Click “Continue” without filling anything in.
Click the box to certify that you are the copyright owner, enter your name, and click “Continue.”
12/12: Review Submission
Look over your submission for any errors–make sure all the items in the checklist are checked off. If you find any issues, go back and fix them.
Before you submit, click “Save Template,” and rename the template title to “Photo Template”–this will save you time when you register photos in the future! Click “Save.”
STEP 5: Buy your copyright
Whew! Registration almost finished. Now you need to pay for your copyright registration. Click “Add to Cart,” and check to make sure you have 1 item in your cart. It should cost $55.
Click “Checkout” at the top of the page, and enter your payment info.
STEP 6: Upload the content you want to register
Your final step in registering your content with the US Copyright Office is to upload the files, so they know what exactly you’ve registered.
Your uploaded files should have the same names as the Content Title names you entered on Screen 4:
[Name of photo], [Date of creation]
Example: Field of roses, Nov 13 2017.
Once everything is uploaded, click “Complete.”
Copyrighting Photos: What Should You Do Next?
Obviously, it’s rare to have the extra $55 to spend on every photo you want to copyright–which is why we recommend you bundle them together and do a single series copyright. Much like copyrighting blog posts, copyrighting photos is something you can do once a quarter (every 3 months) for maximum effectiveness.
Feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions!
Photo credit: Leon Christopher