ASMP — American Society of Media Photographers

Registering Your Copyright – Just Do It

By July 1, 2009August 30th, 2016Strictly Business Blog

While registering the copyright of your photos affords photographers a variety of benefits and protections, very few of us actually do it.  What most don’t seem to realize is that once you get into the regular habit of registering, its just not that big of a deal.  Registration should be like any other part of your business –  like sending out invoices, keeping business records, and paying taxes.  I’m pretty sure that most of us take care of the latter, but for some reason we get stuck on the former.

In all of my paperwork I include in the terms and conditions that usage rights are not conveyed until the invoice is paid in full.  On various occasions I have called up accounts payable (rather than the photo editor or art director who hired me), and asked about the invoice.  If they seemed disinterested in acting on it, I would mention that all the images were registered with the Library of Congress Copyright Office.  I then politely mentioned that rights are not conveyed until payment is received, and gee, we don’t want to get into a copyright dispute about this, do we?  That usually incentivizes them to pay promptly.

On one occasion some photos of mine that were in a stock agency were transferred in error to another agency who had purchased the first.  For three years the second agency had been licensing my work without bothering to pay me the fees.  A friend tipped me off that he’d seen my photos on the second agency’s site.  When I called to investigate, agency 2 very lamely claimed they hadn’t paid me because they didn’t have my current address (I haven’t moved in 18 years).  I requested an immediate accounting of the licensing sales, which they provided. It turned out the total was several thousand dollars.  They then claimed poverty and offered to pay me in drips and drabs over the next year or two.

I pointed out that I had never agreed to the transfer of my images to agency 2, that they were licensing my photos without my permission, and that all the photos were registered images.  When they heard the photos were registered, they fedexed me a check for the full amount the next day.  “Registration” was the magic word that made it happen quickly.

ASMP has a full copyright tutorial and a NEW Best Practices Guide for registering your work.

I strongly urge anyone who is not currently registering to make use of this resource.  And don’t be overwhelmed at the thought that you have to register a mountain of work all at once.  Start by registering the work you are currently doing from today forward, and then make it a habit.  You can go back and do your legacy images as you have time.  For me, I have a folder on my desktop labeled “ready for  © office.”  I simply make a low res copy of any image I produce at the time I download it.  In a program like Lightroom, Bridge, or Aperture its easy.  All you do is export a low res copy to that folder, and when you’re ready to make a submission the files are right there.  Don’t wait, start today.