One of the most asked questions I receive from professional photographers is: “How can I ensure that my photos are copyrighted correctly?”
There are many layers to copyrighting for photographers, but its great to first know the basics, and then figure out how to protect your images from being used without your permission.
So, lets start out easy.
What is a “copyright”?
The term “copyright” is often misunderstood. Especially when it comes to creative entrepreneurs. To put it simply, copyright for photographers means owning the photos. With ownership, your photography business has certain exclusive rights to the photos property. For photographic copyrights, the ownership rights include:
(1) to reproduce the photograph;
(2) to prepare derivative works based upon the photograph;
(3) to distribute copies of the photograph to a third party for sale;
(4) to display the photograph publicly.
When is copyright created?!
Copyright is secured automatically when the photo is created for the first time. Registration is not a condition of copyright protection, but you can register your copyright to make a public record of it.
How do I protect my copyright?!
First thing you will want to do as a photographer is give notice to your client regarding the copyright. This informs the public that your photos are protected by copyright, identifies your business as the copyright owner, and shows the first time it was published. Make sure you have your clients either sign an agreement with a copyright clause or inform them about the copyright when you deliver their photos to them for the first time.
You can file with the U.S. Copyright Office, but, again, its not required. There is an online copyright registration tool for photography, which allows you to quickly register your work and submit the application fee online. The benefits of filing online include: the ability to file suit, putting your copyright up for public record, and you can recover damages and attorneys fees if you ever file suit.
Copyright Infringement Remedies
If you find someone using your photo in violation of your copyright, as long as you have registered your copyright, you can sue in federal court for an injunction and financial restitution. An “injunction” is a legal order to ask an entity to desist from a using your photograph(s). Financial restitution can include repayment for all income earned from the violator who is using copyrighted material, payments for lost revenue to the copyright holder, and payment of your legal fees.
Okay, my best solution for photographers is to do the following:
- Mark your prints with a watermark (although this is becoming more and more of a faux pas)
- Inform your clients up front about your business retaining the copyright and that the client only have the right to use the photos for personal use
- Put a copyright clause in your contract and have your clients sign it
- Have a footer on your website or blog with a copyright notice to readers
For more information, check out the copyright website here: https://www.copyright.gov/