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Is There an Increase in Copyright Filing Fees on the Way?

Published: 03/06/2019

The U.S. Copyright Office has proposed an increase to filing fees for group registration of images. Currently, the cost is $55 for registering up to 750 images. The Office estimates that the cost for providing this service is roughly $284. The proposal is to raise the fee for group registration to $100, which is an increase from about $0.07 per image (based on registering the maximum of 750 images) to about $0.13 per image--almost double the original cost.

While no decision has been made yet, I have a feeling it will eventually be adopted. I feel that fully protecting my images for only $0.13 each is still a bargain and the price increase will not influence my registering every image I deliver.

What are your thoughts on this proposed increase in registration fees? If you are registering your images, will the increase in price change your registration procedures? If so, how? If you are not currently registering your images, why not?

18 comments on “Is There an Increase in Copyright Filing Fees on the Way?”

  1. I see it as the government being very inefficient and instead of working on lowering their costs, it's easier for them to just raise prices. The system is already somewhat automated and, honestly, only about 8 of my images out of the thousands I have registered have been involved in an infringement that went to my attorney and got past one letter. The resolution of the matter didn't involve the Copyright office at all or the courts The attorney on the other side told their client to bow in the dust and negotiate a settlement as quickly as possible before the cost of both side's attorney time mounted to new car buying sums. So,,,, How much initial vetting should the Copyright office have their examiners put into what's submitted? None is my answer. If I take a photo of a plain brick wall, I have no hope of winning an infringement case even if I have registered the image. There's no need for an examiner to sort through all of my submissions to toss it back in my lap. If I were to push it, my attorney would tell me I had no case, but if I'd like to hand over a large retainer, he'd work on it. It's only, or should be only, when human time is applied to a registration that the Copyright office is paying more than server costs on a registration. "Is the form properly filled out? Yes, Is the payment cleared? Yes. Has the deposit been made? Yes. Done" Nothing but computers.

    I'll have to pay the $100 if it goes through, I don't have a choice if I want the protection, but I don't have to like it. The down shift to 750 images at a time made me redo what I submit. I'm hoping that just submitting my delivered images is sufficient to protect all of the exposures that went into them where I used to just deposit all of my frames. It's not just a straight calculation on price. My RE work is submitted as published since it's likely to be online in a day or two of delivery. I also do a submission of just my RE work to separate it from other work as per Copyright Office recommendations. Unpublished non-RE stuff is submitted as and when. Work that is other than RE is mostly submitted as unpublished and done per job or maybe a couple of smaller jobs since most of what I do now isn't for same day consumption. I'll need to work on grouping as much stuff as I can to keep costs contained but when I register individual jobs, I'll be paying more and bumping my invoice if I can to cover it. Raising prices by $25 doesn't sound like it should be too hard, but we all know that when we do raise prices, it's more than that as we've often been eating the cost of a bunch of other things until we can't do that anymore and have enough money to buy the next box of ramen noodles.

  2. What happened to we own the copyright of the image as soon as it was taken? It is pretty simple to prove that the image is ours if someone is infringing. It is just like finger prints or dental records. Two images of one subject or location taken by two people cannot be exactly the same.

  3. I too have had to change the way I register my images because of the new limitation last year of 750 images per application. And no I’m not happy about the fee possibly going up to $100. Having said that the increase to hundred dollars will not deter me from registering all of the images that I deliver to my clients.

    My infringement rate apparently is substantially higher than Mr. Brown. And I’m also noticing a trend with the way defense attorneys are defending infringers. The trend that I see developing by defense attorneys is to forcing the photographer into formal litigation before they will negotiate in good faith. I believe the reason for this is because unless the work is registered the photographer truly has no leverage to force the infringer to compensate for the damage that they’ve done. Attorneys can send out letters whether the work is registered or not but, unless you prove that the work is registered a defense attorney is going to instruct their client to ignore you. At least that’s been my experience.

    Going back to this higher rate of infringement I recently wrote a blog concerning third party infringements. Statistically companies that crawl the Internet looking for image content are reporting that 85% of all IMAGES on the internet will be re-used without authorization of the copyright owner. You can read my comprehensive blog here: https://www.mikeboatman.com/is-your-photographer-registering/ with examples of third-party infringements. One example that’s not in my blog was of a virtually worthless image, in my opinion, of a at best hundred thousand dollar house photographed for real estate that was used by Rocket Mortgage. (I did not register this image) Apparently the quality of image is not a determining factor for infringers. (I won’t make this registration mistake again.)
    In my blog I suggest copyright registration as a service to my clients to protect their interest as well as my own. When an images used without authorization the assigning client is damaged just as much as the photographer.

    All federal districts it is a requirement that the images be registered with the copyright office prior to filing formal litigation. But, the federal districts are split on what constitutes prior registration. A partition is in the US Supreme Court currently will be deciding if you actually have to have the certificate in hand are simply be in the application process prior to filing formal litigation. As you can see this could become another burden to defending the value of our work depending on the decision of the Supreme Court.

    I second Kerry’s question if you’re not registering… why?

  4. Hi Dave Clark
    Yes the images are copyrighted the second you click the shutter.... In name only!
    But there is no legal method to force an infringer to compensate for the damages unless the images are registered.
    The (copyrighted when you click the shutter) is a paper tiger with no teeth. At best you can do a DMCA takedown forcing the infringer to remove it but there's no financial compensation with a DMCA takedown.
    If they remove the watermark if you have a watermark then there's a DMCA claim for that with monetary compensation but DMCA as part of copyright and you can't file a copyright case in court without the image being registered.... Please read my post above about the current petition before the Supreme Court.
    If you need help registering your images I'm happy to assist you.
    Best regards

  5. So at what point does it stop being worth it? I've been doing this for 15 years, and have not had a single time when I needed a formal copyright. Copyrighting my images would cost me over $2500 a year, under the current fees, plus hours of my time. Assume 2 hours per submission, that would be 2.5 weeks a year in lost time. So for it to be worth my time, I would have to make more than that in DISPUTED used every year that can be resolved in a US court. Even formal copyright are worthless when you can't take the infringer to court.

    Now, I'm not saying that copyrights don't allow you to enforce your rights to your images, I'm stating you are putting a $2500 chain on a $2 bike.

  6. Mike Boatman's comments are not entirely accurate. While you do need to have registered the images to sue for copyright infringement in the US, that does not apply to infringements that occur in other countries.

    As for Neal's comments, they are typical of someone who is ignorant of the process. Statutory damages can be major, even when actual damages might not be that large. It is the potential for statutory damages that make registration especially worthwhile.

  7. I'm with Mike, while I don't like the fact that they'd again raise the registration fee, it certainly would will not stop me from registering my copyright. Without registration, you have very little leverage when it comes to infringements.

    I have no idea how Neal has been in business for 15 years without a single copyright infringement, as that's certainly has not been the case for me. But here's the thing; unless you actually look, most of the time you won't even realize how many of your images are being infringed upon. You can ignore it, or you can do something about it.

    As I write this, I've got about 3 dozen cases in various states of negotiations. Without getting into actual dollars, I will only say that the amounts recovered are substantial, and definitely worthwhile.

  8. @David, A different opinion doesn't make someone ignorant. What is ignorant is pursuing a strategy that is extremely unlikely to ever pay off. It's clear that playing the state lottery has made some very rich, but only a fool would see it as a valid strategy. Yes, VHT did win a major judgement against Zillow. But, that doesn't mean that the numbers would work out for anyone else.

  9. @george - I had scores of infringements, I just never needed a formal copyright to enforce my rights. I have found several hundred on Craig's list. In 90+% of those case a formal copyright would have been worthless. The infringer was a scammer in some foreign country posting fraudulent rental listings. In all the cases, notifying Craig's list got the listing removed.

    I have also had some agents use photos, owners doing FSBO and some others. Once notified they take them down or pay. That is what 90% of us have to deal with. In those cases, you just aren't going to be able to collect on a major settlement. I would have to win $10,000 dollars every year just to break even, $20,000 to make it worth dealing with the court system.

    This does change depending on the type of photography you are doing. I am specifically referring to the general real estate photography showing average homes that is the bread and butter of a majority here. Now, if you are talking high profile photos and multi-million dollar complexes thing might change.

  10. Neal, a different opinion reflects ignorance if based on a limited frame of reference, which is clearly the case with you. The fact that you seem to produce work with little value (so far) beyond its initial purpose in no way applies to others with different business models, levels of talent, in different markets, etc. If you meant your comments to apply to only to your circumstances, that is not the way it came off to me. In any case, I think you overstate considerably the amount of time and expense involved if you have an organized process and do it every 3 months.

  11. @Neal, Why is it taking 2.5 hours to do a Copyright registration? I use LightRoom to output my finished images in small jpgs to my RE filing folder for the quarter as I do jobs and the rest of the process is just zipping the images and hitting "add me" on the ECO site. Most of the time, It probably only takes me 10 minutes. I agree that if you are pursuing a case with the expectation that you will get a major settlement, you are going to be disappointed in the world of RE agents. If the infringement were by a major DIY warehouse store or a kitchen appliance company, that is entirely different. It could also be a developer or architectural firm that would land somewhere in the middle. The chances of going to court or even filing a suit are pretty small. If your attorney contacts the infringer with the details and a registration number, their attorney should advise them to settle up fast. The cases we'd most likely see are going to be very simple and not something bizarre like Cariou v. Prince (sp?). You can go after agents on your own if you like with a letter (written and mailed) that reads "I didn't authorized you to use these photos, you can pay for a license (don't name a price here) or I'll send a notice to the MLS to have them removed (they get a strike and possibly a fine). The MLS is a bigger worry for them than dealing with you as they'd get tossed if they didn't comply or pay fines which loses them access and maybe revocation of Supra Key privs. That would really smart.

    @Mike Boatman, If I looked harder, I'd probably find more infringements. I do look at new listings in my area all of the time and I save the homes I have photographed on Trulia and Zillow so I'm notified when things change on the listings such as a new entry that may have a new agent. If it were a cabinet company that took a shine to one of my photos of a kitchen, I'd have a harder time finding that. If I did find that infringement, I would be going after it at least to the extent of having my attorney write a letter. I don't do that myself. My attorney has a few good ones from mild to very aggressive and he sends them out on contingency. We build in his $100 if we were to extract a payment. The mild letters go out to small companies that "might not know" that harvesting images from the web to use in their advertising is naughty. The very aggressive letter would go to a large company that knows better with other letters in between. The Aggressive letter is also more expensive as it's more customized and will have the Copyright registration info on it. Those letters really focus the minds of people more than the sort of notice that they would give me. I'm also not good enough at being an A-type to chase them down.

    @David Eichler, Registering in the US could help with foreign infringements if that other country is a signatory to various trade acts. I imagine that some of my images could be infringed outside of the US and very well may be, but I'd go with Neal's argument about costs and what the awards would have to be to make it worthwhile to pursue. If those images weren't being used online and in no ads in the US, the chances that I spot an infringement is almost nil. That makes me not want to spend any effort trying to find them, figuring out how to engage a local lawyer and hoping I get something after the vultures (lawyers) are done feasting on any awards/settlements. I could certainly change my tune if there were a big company in the EU using an image of mine without permission and I found an attorney I was comfortable with.

    Big companies know that lifting image from the internet is very safe. It can save them loads of money on low-level visuals since the chances the images are registered is tiny, a tinier percentage of those will get caught, the photographer may just go away if ignored and the microscopic number left they can just settle for a couple of grand that will take care of all the rest. Once every decade they might have to pony up a big check, but that's offset by all of the free stuff they've been getting by people "sharing" their work. Apparently, enough people like George's work and he's proficient enough to find them that it's a good revenue stream. George, please write up how you catch them.

    To be taken seriously if you demand compensation for an infringement, you have to be registered. The larger entities know that if you aren't, you can be ignored. The best leverage we have in the RE world is the MLS's that have to look after their Safe Harbor protections that will step in and police brokers and agents that take a light fingered approach to their visual marketing materials. Think of that as a gun. You let them know you have a gun, you may then point it at them, but if you pull the trigger, they're dead and others may notice and it's messy all around. I'd never believe that if you got an agent fined, they'd ever hire you and the whole office they work in may then shun you as well unless that agent is a real turd.

  12. Ken, I didn't say it would necessarily be easy to find and pursue infringements in foreign countries. However, if you find one and the potential damages award could be large enough, it might be worth pursuing.

    I don't know what you mean about registration being helpful with foreign infringements and trade agreements. You will need to elaborate and cite some solid source for that. The Berne Convention does not require registration and I know of no country that is a signatory to it that requires registration, other than the US, nor do any of the other countries have standard provisions for statutory damages, that I am aware of anyway.

  13. Ken Brown – There is little doubt in my mind that only 8 of your images out of thousands that you have registered got past one letter. Do you really think that would have been the same quick resolution if you had not registered your images? I doubt it.

    Dave Clark – What you stated is true. You do own the copyright as soon as the image is written to your memory card. But, like what Mike Boatman said by not registering your image severely limits your legal options when an infringement occurs.

    Neal McGuire – It doesn’t take me that long to register a group of images. It probably takes me 30 minutes or less and that includes prepping the images and documents used for the actual registration. It also sounds like you are only looking locally for infringements. I’d be willing to bet that some of your images are being infringed outside of your local area. I’m guessing that you are not looking.

    George – I applaud you for your registering your images like I do. Unfortunately, we are the minority. It’s sad.

    David Eichler – I agree with you that registration does not apply to infringements that occur in other countries. Infringements must be tried where the infringement occurs following the laws in that country. Likewise, if someone is a citizen of a country other than the US and finds their images being infringed in the US, they must file a lawsuit in and follow US laws in order to pursue an infringement case. Of which requires registration. Am I correct with this?

  14. "Ken, I didn’t say it would necessarily be easy to find and pursue infringements in foreign countries. However, if you find one and the potential damages award could be large enough, it might be worth pursuing."

    @David Eichler, I'm with you on that. I just don't spend any time looking for those due to how complicated it would be to pursue. I'd be looking at the country as well as the entity that was infringing. There are lots of places in the world where the "rule" of law is mostly taken as guidelines. If it were a big developer in Canada or Norway, that's a different nut and I'd feel confident that going forward would be worth the time and effort.

    There is usually some reciprocity when it comes to Copyright, Trademarks, Patents, etc. I'm not even a serious amateur when it comes to international law on those sorts of things, but I have heard attorneys advocate that registering Copyrights in the US is prudent for many residents of other countries. That might just be since the US is such a large market and it makes it easier to settle US infringements. I haven't had any advice on registering my Copyright in any other countries for the same reasons. Something to look into, for sure.

    @Kerry Bern, Actually, those 8 were just the RE image infringements and I don't know if the registration and unspoken threat of a Federal lawsuit was more of a "stick" than MLS penalties. I've had journalism photos pilfered and the registration was entirely the reason I was compensated on those and the amounts were much much larger. Still, I register my RE images since next time it could be a national franchise office that helps themselves and if the images weren't registered, their much higher paid lawyers could just advise them to ignore me as standard policy unless and until they got a letter from an attorney stating the images were registered (with the number listed) and a demand to be sent an accurate accounting of where the images were used.

    Those of us that advocate that everybody register their work should keep it up and illustrate the reasons why it's a good idea based on our experiences. I'm no great shakes at creating tutorial videos (I've never even tried), but I'd be happy to contribute time to making one that could be linked here as a reference if somebody wanted to take the lead. It's really simple to register and to have a workflow that is very fast to capture the images to be registered. If an average job is 25 images, that's 30 jobs per registration or $2.50/job. One could even be more parsimonious and not register beige, vacant small bedrooms and other very low value photos. If somebody ripped one of those off from me, I'd never know so why bother? That means you just have to go through your images to be delivered and rate them with a color (I use stars and picks for my culling) and select/output those images and send them to a collection folder. Shouldn't take more than 30 seconds or so. If push came to shove, I would only be registering a couple of images on a vacant property or a not-ready-for-primetime-player.

    There are roughly 22 working days in a month, times 2 jobs per day, times $200/job is $8,800. If your work was lifted by a national real estate firm as has happened in the recent past and your settlement (net, not gross) was $10,000, that's more than a month slaving over a hot tripod. Take December off and visit Prague!. It's worth pointing out that your attorney is doing the work, so you are free to keep taking on jobs. $10k is a bit rich, but it's not a stretch to receive $10k during a year. Infringements are rampant as he!!. If you were sufficiently cynical and married to an attorney, you could register all of your work (assuming you're pretty good at photography) and put it all nicely organized on a website and just hunt infringers. I wouldn't be surprised if you could earn an income from that.

  15. @Kerry Berns / Kerry Brown - When you say it takes you 30 minutes, how many photos does that include? We take a lot of photos a month. Generating thumbnails of that many photos would take almost 2 hours on its own (I guessed at 1 second per photo). If there is someway that could be done faster let me know.

    As for checking for infringements, It's very possible that I am missing some. I really don't have a means of checking all the images. Places like Craig's list and other RE sites I can visually scan the listing and tell by the style if it is one of ours.

  16. @Neal, I make the small jpgs to send to the Copyright office at the same time I'm making the images to send to the client. I checked my settings and the images are 640px on the long side with a 60 on the quality slider. Not an image I send to a paying customer, but more than adequate for the deposit and the images are right around 100kb ea. I don't pay attention to how long the export takes or how long it takes to zip the files since I'll just set it up and let it run while I do something else such as make dinner or phone calls (or YouTube). The registration itself once the photos are ready to upload is nearly all done except to name the submission and upload the photos which is pretty fast on my connection.

    I just did a test run with 33 images (sorta average for a larger home) and the export was 00:01:20 and compressing about 10 seconds. So, I'm adding a minute and a half of computer time to each job.

    The greatest possibility for infringements that are easy to catch is going to be reuse on listings. I should spend more time random sampling matches with the images I think are above average to see if I catch any other uses. You can only check so much so you have to go for the low hanging fruit and make it pay. It won't pay to spend any time on cases where your probability of finding anything exceeds what might be possible in return. I'm definitely not a fan of assigning the right to pursue infringements to any "search" company. It could turn out my best customer isn't playing by the rules and I may want to have a quiet chat with him rather than turning the dogs loose. The other concern is that the company/law firm is working for the infringer and fails to "find" the infringement because that customer is more valuable.

  17. Neal - You are limited to registering up to 750 images per registration. I did not include the time to generate the thumbnails when I said it only takes 30 minutes. That's due to usually generating them a few days before I register. I have a smart collection in LR where the images that I want to register are automatically placed in. I keep an eye on the image count of that collection and when it gets close to 750 I select them and generate the thumbnails and then modify the smart collection to start collecting a new batch. It might be a few days before I take the time to prepare the excel spreadsheet and actually going through the registration process.

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