Preparing a Hard Copy Deposit

If you are registering a single published image, you must submit two copies of the published work. The technical description from Circular 40a is: “two complete copies of the best edition if the work was first published in the United States, or, for certain types of works, identifying material instead of actual copies…. A complete copy of a published work is one that contains all elements of the unit of publication, including those that, if considered separately, would not be copyrightable subject matter. The copies deposited for registration should be physically undamaged.” Important: There is special information for work published before March 1, 1989 in the Note at the bottom of this page.

Basically, you must submit two copies showing the photograph in its original published form, probably a “tear sheet.” Submit originals or color copies if published in color, black-and-white if published in black-and-white. You may scan or Xerox copy the original page. See the descriptions below in “How To Create a Group Registration Deposit.”

If you are registering unpublished images, or a group of published images, you do not need tear sheets or whole-page copies. Instead, you only need one copy of each image. The copy has to be recognizable, but it can be on paper, a digital file on disk, or videotape. Follow these suggested guidelines:

Any of the following options are acceptable. The newest and most efficient methods are listed first:

  • For large numbers of images, the most efficient workflow is to burn the files onto a CD-ROM or a DVD-ROM. (If the images are not already in digital form, they must first be scanned.) For archival reasons, you should scan the images and burn the CD using the most common file formats. The instructions that come with Form CON list the acceptable formats. The current standard is to scan images as RGB JPEG files and burn them to a CD that conforms to universal ISO-9660 formatting. You can submit any number of images at any resolution as long as the files are large enough and contain enough detail for an individual image to be recognizable when viewed on a small monitor. It is also recommended to include a printed contact sheet of all images submitted on the disc. Photoshop’s Contact Sheet plug-in (look in the program’s File->Automatemenu) works well for this.
  • Another method for copying prints or slides is to place the images on a light table and photograph the collection with a digital camera or with negative film. When using this method, it is critical to ensure that each individual image is recognizable on the final file or print submitted. If you have a close-focusing lens, you can combine several slides on one frame. If you are shooting negative film, use a one-hour lab to make 4×6 prints and submit these prints as your deposit.
  • A videotape may contain as many images as the tape can hold while preserving the visibility of each image for at least two seconds per image. A 120-minute tape can hold 30 images per minute, for a total of 3,600 images per tape. If using this method, take care that the full frame of the original is visible on the recording. Note: Each tape requires its own registration form and registration fee.
  • A group of positive contact sheets made from slides (some place slides in protective plastic sleeves) and printed or copied onto a color copier
  • A group of contact sheets (color or black & white).
  • A group of individual duplicate transparencies in protective plastic sleeves.

Size limits. If your deposit is the actual published form of the work, there are no size requirements. (The work is the size that it is.) For “identifying material,” which is everything else, Circular 40a sets minimum and maximum sizes.

“Photographic transparencies must be at least 35 mm in size and, if 3 x 3 inches or less, must be fixed in cardboard, plastic, or similar mounts; transparencies larger than 3 x 3 inches should be mounted. All types of identifying material other than photographic transparencies must be not less than 3 x 3 inches and not more than 9 x 12 inches, but preferably 8 x 10 inches. The image of the work should show clearly the entire copyrightable content of the work.”

The size limits apply to the print, not each image. For an image, the final sentence above is what matters: The examiner must be able to see the image clearly — and the Copyright Office does not provide jeweler’s loupes to its employees. If the examiner, sitting at his desk, is able to identify the image content, the deposit is probably going to be accepted. If not, it will be bounced.

Because of this human factor, the practical size requirement can depend on the nature of the image. Shots of sky or waterscapes probably need to be bigger than portraits, for instance. If you are in doubt, our advice is to cut the examiner a break and make the image bigger.

Important Note: “For a photograph published before March 1, 1989, the copy of the photograph must show the photograph as it was first published. This copy must show the copyright notice, if any, that appeared on, or in connection with, the photographic work. This is necessary because the copyright law in effect from January 1, 1978 through February 28, 1989 required that a work be published with a copyright notice identifying the owner of the copyright and the year of first publication of the work. (For more information on copyright notice, consult Circular 3.) The deposit copy for a photograph published prior to March 1, 1989 may conform to any of the above listed formats as long as the format deposited faithfully reproduces the photograph in its exact, first-publication appearance.” From the instructions on Form CON.