Photography & Copyright Registration

Photography & Copyright Registration

You have tens of thousands of images taken for your photography business and you want to make sure your work is protected.

Do you have to register every image with the U.S. Copyright Office for protection?

How do you register your work? Is there a difference if you have published the work or not?

Let’s take a look at how copyright works with your photography, the difference from a trademark, the process, and the advantages you can gain!


Copyright Refresher

To start, let’s go over the basics about copyright. According to the U.S. Copyright Office a copyright is, “A form of protection provided by the laws of the United States for “original works of authorship”, including literary, dramatic, musical, architectural, cartographic, choreographic, pantomimic, pictorial, graphic, sculptural, and audiovisual creations. “Copyright” literally means the right to copy but has come to mean that body of exclusive rights granted by law to copyright owners for protection of their work.”

What does that mean for you and your photos? It means that you, as the creator, are the original copyright owner of the photo and can control any future use of the photo. The exception being if you are “work-for-hire”, where the photo will belong to another depending on the situation. Some examples are if you are working for a newspaper as a photojournalist or if you have contracted your right to another.

Since in most cases your rights attach the moment the photo is created, registering the photo is not a requirement for a copyright. The copyright is immediate upon the release of the shutter. However, registration may give you additional benefits.



Additional Benefits of Registering with the Copyright Office

If you have not registered the photo before it has been infringed, or within three months of its publication, then you can only be awarded actual damages. Actual damages are paid for your proven loss from the infringement. If the photo was registered then you could be awarded statutory damages, which will be decided by the court in accordance with a range set by statute.


How to Register Your Images

  • File an application (paper or online) at
  • Pay your fee
  • Submit your deposit


In sum, all of your photos are copyrighted, whether you have registered them or not. However, registering may benefit you in an infringement case.


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