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Video: How to Register Copyright on Your Photographs

Published: 06/04/2020

Mike Boatman's recent articles here on PFRE about the merits of registering your photos with the US Copyright Office have been so insightful, well written, and just plain helpful. I started my year with a timely registration of all of my images from the last 3 months of 2019, as well as several registrations for all of my work dating back through 2016. Now that I am all caught up with a backlog of registrations, I have vowed to register all of my work in a timely fashion from now on.

With the first 3 months of the year now over, I registered all of my work since the beginning of 2020--all on time--and I recorded the process start to finish in the hopes of helping those who haven't done it before to get it done more efficiently than my first couple of attempts!

The video starts with some organizational tips in Lightroom that I have found to be really helpful for me when it comes to registering my images. Maybe you'll also find it helpful. From there, you watch me actually register my photos. Nothing is cut out of the process (just my personal information blurred out for privacy). It's not an entertaining video by any stretch--it's about as boring as a video can be--but it's all in there.

NOW GO REGISTER YOUR WORK!

I now have several cases being handled by Permission Machine; two of which have been settled at the time of writing this post. Those would have been settled for much more had the images been registered on time. I also have three other cases being worked that are timely registrations. Looking forward to seeing where those go.

Big thanks to Mike Boatman for contributing so much of his first hand knowledge to this community. And thanks to Kerry Bern for helping me as I began navigating these waters.

Garey Gomez is an architectural photographer based in Atlanta, Georgia. He is the 2019 PFRE Photographer of the Year, a three-time PFRE Photographer of the Month, and the creator of the Mastering Real Estate Photography tutorial series.

11 comments on “Video: How to Register Copyright on Your Photographs”

  1. I'm certainly glad to see that somebody actually followed through, and started registering copyright. Not only that, but you've already collected lost income from some of the people that simply take what isn't theirs.

    Now if everybody would do the same, the stealing would stop, and we would be able to license our images again. It wasn't that many years ago licensing amounted to a hundred grand a year.

  2. @Gary, registering Copyright in the US may be a good thing for non-US citizens. There is no residency or citizenship requirement and a lot of infringements occur in the US.

    The 90 day period is for "published" images and the time comes into effect from the date of first publication, not capture. There is no such requirement for unpublished photos. When the 750 photo limit went into effect, I started just registering my delivered images for RE or any other work that has been delivered to a client.

    I don't bother to do "pick" flags. Any image that I will use in a composite is given one star. An image ready to deliver to the client is rated 4 stars and an image I plan to use on my website or other portfolio is given 5 stars. 2 and 3 star ratings are my slush fund. Infrequently, I have two compositions out of which I will choose one to deliver and I'll give those compositions 3 stars. I could delete the balance of the images that aren't being used, but drive space is cheap and I won't delete anything until the customer has signed off and has used the images. It's a matter of time spent culling and deleting vs the cost of storage. The storage usually wins unless I'm running out of disk space and I need to make room quickly. I'll then go to the oldest job and purge the zeros.

    I have also been exporting my Copyright small jpgs as I export each job into a folder named for the next registration due date. I means that when I'm in a hurry because I just saw that the registration is due the next day, all I'm doing is building the spreadsheet and zipping the file up.

    A good practice that I learned was putting the case number in the metadata keywords of your files and then replacing that with the registration number once you get that from the Copyright office. It's another way to find the information quickly and keep everything together. I also scan my registration certificate and put that in the folder with the other files. The scanned file is also good to send to your attorney when dealing with an infringement so they can present it to the other party. A largish company isn't going to do much until they see a copy attached to your attorney's discovery letter. They know that without your having that document in hand, you can't take them to court so they can just put you off.

  3. @George I sure hope everyone does it.

    @Ken Brown Thank you for the tips. I'll follow suit on scanning the certificates (I have yet to receive any, since they're all so new). Regarding the rating system, I also appreciate your insights there. A couple notes where we operate a little differently, in the interest of open dialog so others can potentially benefit from it - I don't shoot compositions that don't get delivered. I always decide on my composition on site, and if I shoot it I deliver it. So the photos I delete are not discarded compositions, but rather un-used brackets or un-used flash frames. Truly junk that has no use or value. I only save the raw files that I used in the composite, as well as the layered TIFF file (which I know is redundant, because the individual RAW files live inside the layered TIFF, but it makes me feel safe and warm so I keep them anyway).

    For some of the uses for the star ratings that you describe, I use color ratings. We are doing many things the same way, from the sound of it, just using the different labels/ratings within LR to do it. So nice to have the options, and to hear how others are using them!

  4. @Gary, There are tons of ways to build a workflow and this is one of those things that would make for a good set of short presentations at the next PFRE conference. Some of what I do I've copied from others and parts are things I've worked out so they make sense to me. Most creative people are going to find sense in things in many different ways than somebody a more "logical" mind.

    I don't often shoot more compositions than I deliver, but if I'm in two minds I won't spend time agonizing and either choose one or do both. The 3 star rating lets me look at just my two choices on the computer and then pick the one I'll go with. Portraits have they own and much more complex system.

    I sometimes use color ratings on complex projects, but I really try to keep things as simple as possible for RE work. My goal with organizing my Copyright stuff is to keep the time spent at any one point as little as possible so I won't put it off or miss a deadline. What I'd love to see from Adobe is the ability to build an export bundle. I deliver RE galleries for the three main consumer RE websites, two local MLS's and a set for printing on each job. It's no big deal with presets, but it could be even faster if all of the presets could be run with a click or two.

    KelbyOne is the only place I've seen a bunch of tutorials specifically on organization with LR. Scott has some great ideas that take advantage of the automation possibilities within LR. One of the things I think I'll do this week is make an automatic collection based on keywords. When I keyword a job, I put in a one word comment on the home. TBSH, nice, gorgeous. I'll also stick in "vacant" if it's a vacant property. My goal it to take all of my finished images of the better homes and put them in a collection so when I get inquiries about images for third party licensing, I can look though a collection for images that fit the brief much faster. I might keyword for kitchens as those are the most requested images so a collection of kitchen photos could be handy.

  5. THANK YOU Garey !!!!!
    For the shout out as well as providing links to the articles that I pinned here.

    Thank you also for registering your images. You have fulfilled my only goal with writing the articles.

    As George stated above if a higher percentage of photographers registered their images a disproportionate amount of infringements would disappear. An example of this in the blogging community has already been proven to be true. It's only been a few years ago it was common practice in the blogging community to simply "borrow images". After Jay M went after a blogger and successfully was paid for the usage that was stolen; the blogging community grasp the concept that it cost less money to seek permission then to pay for an infringement. Today I have clients that are bloggers and I'm shooting for their blogs. The reason for this is to be competitive, they needed higher quality imagery. For them, they took the following step of commissioning me, a photographer, to create imagery that could successfully compete against their competition to draw viewers. WOW... what a concept stopping infringements increases assignment work. And doesn't what bloggers were doing seemed very familiar to what's going on the real estate industry?

    It's also my goal to put out as good information as possible. I believe in your video Garey said title names are optional. I believe they are requirement in the template.

    My processes for prepping the images is slightly different than yours. I was part of the beta program at the copyright office and was supervised and tutored by copyright office in staff on exactly best practices for copyright registration and file prep.

    One of the key things I noticed is you didn't use the watermark function in Lightroom to imprint visually a formal notice of copyright on the image. This might be optional but in the beta program it was not. The requirements in the beta program required that a formal copyright notice and the actual date of first publication be visually imprinted on the image. This is just a another step that I've set up as part of the watermark function of Lightroom when I export the images. This additional step requires that I make a folder for each month versus putting all the months in a single folder.

    Also per the copyright office, you only need one consistent element per the title name that matches up with the file name. For me I use the frame number and date created by the camera. This greatly shortens the number of characters in the title name that goes into the title block at registration.

    In your video you request for call out of the easier way than trial in error on the title box I import all of my title into a word Doc. Once they are in a word Doc I put them in paragraph form and use the word count function to break them into 1995 characters plus spaces and I create a paragraph break. I then put the number of images per that paragraph underneath it this makes it very easy for me to import into the copyright title box from the word Doc. I'm not sure which takes more time you're hunting and pecking method versus me taking the time to create a word Doc. I'm actually guessing that years takes less time than mine.

    Organization of files. That is almost unique to the photographer where I differ from you is my file structure is set up by client and then addresses under that client. When doing searches especially in real estate having the address makes it substantially easier to find all of the infringements.

    I completely agree with Ken and I scan all of my copyright certificates when I get them back from the copyright office in fact I have a backlog of 15 certificates that I need to scan this week. Opposing counsel is always can ask for the copyright certificate and then they are going to look in the certificate to see if the image that your alleging has been infringed is actually listed.

    Lastly sorry I haven't been commenting more actively on this blog. I'm currently involved in prelitigation for 3 copyright infringement cases.... I can virtually guarantee every USA photographer here has the same three cases I'm currently working on...... Due to confidentiality I'm not going to give out the names but in general I will say this, case number one the initial demand amount 1.2 million, case number two 330,000, and the third case the formal complaint for filing with the federal court district is being drafted now. With regards to case number one the 1.2 million it has an extremely short statue of limitations. If it doesn't settle before statue of limitations hard deadline which I will be filing prior to Brandon Cooper has stated that he will allow me to post the entire complaint here.

    I really don't understand why photographers are copyright registry. As Gary's pointed out with his video it's not overly complicated. Yes it's tedious but it's not overly complicated and the tediousness dissipates after you have a few completed. I've provided a link numerous times in my articles which will give you a PDF file of screen captures outlining the exact same beta process that was given to me and taught to me by the copyright office.

    Photographers register your damn images.......... It's the only way that you are going to stop copyright infringements. By enforcing your copyrights you will convert stolen usage into assignment work the same as what happened in the blogging community. And you can probably recover some of the stolen usage fees along the way.

  6. Garey just got off the phone with my attorney and that ring a bell that I forgot to mention in my previous post. I'm concerned about your copyright title of work, Gary Gomez QT1 2020. One of the things I'm getting a tremendous amount of pushback on is it's a compilation of images and not entitled to statutory damages per each image. The title that you give the work in the copyright registration goes a long way in defeating this defense. Again I'm not an attorney it's just my opinion from my experiences that last sentence sounds like I'm giving out legal advice so I better put this disclaimer in their because I'm pretty sure everything that I write here will be reviewed by attorneys both foe and friend.

    Here is a copy and paste from the instructions from the copyright office gave me specifically concerning the title naming structure so that your images are registered uniquely and not as a compilation.

    • TITLE: The first title, (Title of work being registered) should be the collective title for the group. If the photos are published the title must begin with “Group Registration Photos”, then range of publication dates must be included, as well as how many photographs are in the group. The dates of publication must be complete dates – day, month, and year. EXAMPLE: Group Registration Photos, Hawaii, published Jan. 1, 2009 to Dec. 31, 2009; 250 photos. Unpublished groups just need the group or collection title.

    Here's an example of one of my titles from 2018, "Group registration photos, by Mike boatman, published December 6, 2018: 626 photos."

    Again let me repeat as you already know it's tedious. Having said that the law is tedious. And federal court is extremely tedious. Words matter each word. In so far the beta program that the copyright office provided the format for has yet to ever be broken by defense attorney. Let me know if you'd like me to publish the entire outline.

    I really hope this is helpful my only goal is to provide good accurate information.

  7. @Mike Boatman. Were you saying to put a visible watermark on images? All images or just the ones deposited with the copyright office? I can't deliver images to RE clients with visible watermarks and it hasn't been a copyright requirement since circa 1978. I do put them on images I supply to a news site and they also credit me. The one thing it can do is help with a "willful" assertion if somebody trims it off or uses a "watermark remover" application. I also make sure my camera exif data is updated every year and LR is putting keywords on each image. I'd love to see a case that goes to court that addresses the stripping of metadata as MLS's routinely do.

    I agree that Gary has very long file names and that makes the process take longer. I don't put the date in my file names as it's already in metadata. I do label the top level job folder starting with the date so it will sort in date order. On the output files it's just 123MainSt_MLS-001.jpg, where "MLS" is replaced by the MLS name, Trulia, Zillow, Print, etc so the agent can see what the file is optimized for. The copyright output is just 123MainSt-001.jpg. Since I am outputting the copyright deposit galleries along with each job, the date on the file is what I'll claim for the date of publication since I'll be delivering those images within an hour of creating the galleries. At most, the next day.

    It has to be restated that once you've gone through the process a couple of times, it gets much faster. Much of what you fill out online can be done with "add me" on the ECo forms once you've registered and gone through a registration the first time.

    One thing that hasn't been covered is who should be the registrant. The easy answer is you, in your name. You can transfer your copyrights if you sell your business and they are part of the deal, but if you've included photos in those registrations that you don't want to go with the sale of the company, it can be messy. It's also means that you may be able to preserve your registered work if you need to dissolve the company or go through bankruptcy. It's like having your domain name registered through somebody other than your web host. If your host pulls a big rate increase, you can move your web site in a hot second. If your domain is with the host, you might find a few roadblocks and it could also turn out that the great deal you got has them owning your domain name.

  8. I would note that the stay at home restrictions provide a lot of free time to get this project done.
    Then when we get rolling again we will have a workflow in place that really helps us stay as profitable as possible.

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