See also the FAQ on copyright law.
Q: How can I avoid delays and backlogs at the Copyright Office that might impact my application's timely registration in the copyright registration process?
A: The enormous backlog of registrations is related to the increased workload and reduced budget in recent years which have caused long delays. Electronic (eCO) registrations go significantly faster than paper registrations.
The receipt by the Copyright Office of applications sent by U.S. mail is approximately 3-5 days after arrival at the building. Upon arrival, applications are immediately routed off-site for security inspection and irradiation. To give some relief to copyright applicants, the Copyright Office records the applications sent by mail as being received two days earlier than the date of actual receipt at the Office. Private couriers, who used to be allowed to bring registration materials directly to the Office, are now directed to an off-site central security screening facility. The receipt of these registrations are recorded by the Copyright Office on the same date they are received at the facility, so there is still increased value in shipping registrations by private courier if the date of registration is likely to be significant.
Obviously, you should keep a backup copy of all materials you submit, in case a package gets lost, damaged or destroyed somehow.
Q: I sent in my copyright form, along with images for deposit and my fee. But I haven’t gotten a confirmation of this receipt. Should I be worried?
A: Since the Copyright Office receives well over a half-million applications every year, it cannot feasibly respond with a notice of receipt of your application. Once your application is successfully processed, you will receive a certificate of registration; if there is a problem with your application, you will get either a letter, phone call or e-mail from Copyright Office staff requesting more information or letting you know why your submission cannot be copyrighted. In either case, it may take as long as eight months or more for you to receive this correspondence. To be certain that your application was delivered, you should use a shipping method that allows package tracking and delivery confirmation, such as Federal Express, UPS, etc.
Q: Can I register both published and unpublished images on the same form if they were taken in the same 12-month period?
A: No. A separate filing is required for each category. You must group published and unpublished work separately and make different filings for each. Our tutorial section Published or unpublished? discusses what constitutes “publication” for copyright purposes.
Q: I expect that my images will be published, but I don’t know when this will happen. How can I register when I don’t know the date of publication?
A: Three strategies are possible. First, if you expect that publication is some number of weeks in the future, you can register the images right now as unpublished. As long as the effective date of registration (namely, the date the application is received at the Copyright Office) is earlier than any infringements, your rights are fully secured.
Another strategy is to publish the images yourself: Put them in a publicly accessible section of your web site. Under U.S. law (as currently interpreted by the Copyright Office), an image is published when a member of the public could obtain a copy. Thus, you technically would have to offer the images for sale; but the rights could be quite narrow, the price could be quite high, and you don’t have to promote the offer very hard. (Obviously, this isn’t a good approach if you are already bound by exclusive marketing or licensing deals.)
The third strategy is to wait for publication and take advantage of the three-month grace period that the law provides. As long as the copyright is registered within three months of actual publication (again, defined as the date when the public can get a copy), your rights are protected regardless of when an infringement may occur.
A: If you are registering published images using the Continuation Form (Form GR/PPh/CON), you may attach up to 50 continuation forms to one Form CO. That means you can have up to 750 images in each group.
For unpublished images, you don’t use the Continuation Form, and so the sky is the limit.
A: Although you need tear sheets or whole-page photocopies to register asingle image, the requirement for a group of images is just “one copy of the image.” It doesn’t have to be a tear sheet; it can be a print, a digital file on disk, or a short appearance on videotape. (For details on acceptable formats, see the Form CON Instructions.)
So all you need to do is find another published, unregistered image from that year and register them both as a group.
A: The most likely consequence is that an examiner in the Copyright Office will notice the error and ask you to correct it. This may delay the date of registration (which could be a problem if you are already embroiled in a lawsuit), but otherwise is not harmful.
One error that an examiner is not likely to catch, especially in a group application, is registering a published image as unpublished, or vice-versa. If you notice that this has happened (or find any other mistake after your registration is granted), you can use Form CA to amend your registration. The fee for this is $100.
Why bother? If you sue an infringer, the first thing the defense lawyer will check is whether your registration is valid. If he finds a mistake, he will try to use it against you. There is a precedent in your favor, but it is far better to present an airtight registration in the first place.
Q: When I download and print out the copyright registration form from the web site, it comes out on two pages. Yet the form received directly from the Copyright Office is only one page, with printing on both sides. When I submit an application, can it be on two pages, or do I have to print it on both sides of one page?
A: One page, both sides. The Copyright Office won’t accept your application if it’s on two pages. Furthermore, you’ve got to print it head-to-head; that is, so that when you turn the page over, the top of page 2 is directly behind the top of page 1. If you don’t follow this procedure, your application will be returned to you as incomplete. This will delay the date of your registration. The same regulation applies to photocopying an application form: two sides of one page, top to top.
A: Yes. We have a tutorial page that guides you through the process step by step.
Q: I use a pseudonym for my photo credits. How do I register my copyrights: with my real name or the pseudonym?
A: It depends on what you prefer. If you use a pseudonym on the work, but want to be identified by your real name for purposes of copyright, you can easily do this.
Using eCO online, put your pseudonym in the Individual Author box and check the Pseudonymous checkbox. Your real name will be given later on the Claimants screen.
Using Form CO, put your pseudonym in space 2a and check item 2g in the Author Information section. Then put your real name in space 3a.
Using Form VA: In section 2a, where it asks for Name of Author, write in your real name followed by “whose pseudonym is” and then the pseudonym. Additionally, in the same section, check the box next to “Pseudonymous” where it says, “Was This Author’s Contribution to the Work”? On the Short Form VA, you should write in your real name, then include your pseudonym followed by “pseud.”
However, if you don’t want your name to appear on the copyright form, and you merely want the work to be registered under your pseudonym, you should write only your pseudonym in the space that asks for your name, followed by the word “Pseudonym”.
In any case, you must put a name in the Claimant space — you cannot leave it blank. You can put your pseudonym on that line, but the Copyright Office warns, “if a copyright is held under a fictitious name, business dealings involving that property may raise questions of ownership of the copyright property.” In other words, should there be doubt about who owns the copyright at some time in the future, having only your fictitious pseudonym appear on the application might not make a case for you. This is where a good copyright attorney can be helpful to guide you in how to proceed.
Q: I’m publishing a book of my photos. Instead of going to the trouble of registering the photos, can I just copyright the book to cover the images as well?
A: If you own the copyrights to all of the components of the book, the registration will cover all of the materials in it. However, if there is more than one copyright owner involved (e.g., you own the rights to the photos, but someone else owns the copyright to the text), you should register the photos separately.
A: If you use the online eCO process and are eligible to upload the images, you should prepare submission copies of your images as low-quality, low-resolution JPEGs. (The resolution should be sufficient that the copyright examiner can recognize the contents of the image. 600 x 600 pixels should be plenty.) If there are more than a few images, group them into batches of a couple hundred and compress each batch into a ZIP file. You can then upload the ZIP files as part of the eCO process.
If you cannot upload images, burn them onto a CD. The Copyright Office will accept CD-ROMs and DVD-ROMs as deposits for registration. It is not necessary to submit prints of the images along with the files on disk. Some photographers suggest that you send along a “contact sheet” — a page of thumbnails (or multiple pages, if you’re registering a large group of images) to display the contents of the CD, with coordinated information (numbers, names, whatever) that links the thumbnails to the more substantial images on the disk. (Low-resolution JPEG is the preferred graphic format, as opposed to GIF or TIFF.) There are a number of free or cheap utilities that can batch-print images into a contact sheet format.
Q: I know that after I register I’ll get a certificate in the mail indicating and proving my registration. But I’d still like to see the official registration information as it exists at the Copyright Office. Is there a way to do this?
A: If you registered your copyright after Jan. 1, 1978, you can search online at the Copyright Office web site. (From the site’s home page, you would click on “Search Copyright Records,” then on the “Books, Music, etc.” section.) indicate the type of search and the term you’re searching for, and your record should be accessible. If not, get in touch with the Copyright Office to find out why it’s missing. One important note: It will take several months after you receive your registration certificate for your record to go up online, so be patient.