Photographers: You’ve Registered Your Works…Now What?

Copyright Certificate

Copyright lawyers spend a lot of time encouraging and reminding their photographer clients to register their copyrights with the U.S. Copyright Office. As I have written previously, although registration is not required to have a valid copyright, it is required to bring an enforcement action in court (at least for U.S. works), and timely registration – that is, either within three months of publication, or before a particular infringement occurs – is required to be eligible to receive attorney’s fees and statutory damages (see Steve Schlackman’s article about damages in copyright cases).

So, you’ve registered you works. Good job. Now what?

Assuming you did everything right during the registration process, you’ll end up with a registration certificate issued by the Copyright Office and the public record of your copyright claim will appear in the U.S. Copyright Office’s database, which you can search at Registrationcopyright registrationBecause the Copyright Office still issues paper certificates, if you register your work regularly, you’ll end up with a pile of paper (especially if you’re filing paper applica­tions with continuation sheets, which can quickly become voluminous if you register more than a handful of images).

What good are the certificates? Well, if you ever have a situation where someone uses you work without permission, your lawyer will want to look at the certificate and a copy of the work as you registered it to help him or her evaluate the strength of your case. If you reach out to the infringer with a cease and desist letter, attaching the applicable certificate can help motivate compliance, and of course, if you end up having to litigate, you’ll have to attach a copy of the certificate to your complaint when you file the lawsuit.

All of this is to say that you don’t really need the certificates…until you need them. And when you do need them, usually the last thing you have time for is hunting through boxes and files trying to find which certificate goes with which registration.

In my book Copyright Workflow for Photographers: Protecting, Managing, and Sharing Digital Images, I lay out a filing technique that I have found works well. There’s no right or wrong way to do this, of course, but here’s one approach you may want to consider:

  1. Scan the registration certificate into a PDF and include the registration number and the title of the registered work in the filename. I also include the abbreviation “Cert” in the filename, so I know it’s the certificate. For example, I registered images from a shoot in Barcelona as an unpublished collection titled “Chris Reed Photography (Barcelona 2013).” I was issued registration number VAu001139321. So, the filename of the certificate is VAu001139321-Barcelona2013-Cert.pdf. (To keep the filename a reasonable length, I drop the “Chris Reed Photography.”)
  1. When I file using the Copyright Office’s electronic system, eCO, I usually submit a PDF contact sheet of all the images included in my registration application. I rename that file fol­lowing the same structure as in Step 1, except replace “Cert” with “Deposit.” So, for the example above, it would be VAu001139321-Barcelona2013-Deposit.pdf.

If you submit multiple image files, you can follow the same procedure, by appending a number after “Deposit” (e.g., “Deposit01,” Deposit02,” and so on). Alternatively, you could compress the images into an archive file (ZIP or equivalent) and name it similarly. Again, using the example above, it would be

  1. Save the two files (the one from Step 1 and the one from Step 2) together in a directory on your computer. I have a folder called “Copyright Registration Records” on my computer, divided into subfolders by year. This approach lets me find them easily if I know when I registered the images, and putting the registration number and title in the filename lets me use my computer’s search feature to find them if I can’t remember the date.
  1. That leaves you with a paper registration certificate. Although you just scanned the certificate in Step 1, I strongly encourage you to maintain the original because you may need it down the road for litigation or some other circumstances that requires you to establish ownership. The Copyright Office will issue reprints of certificates for a fee, but you can avoid paying again by maintaining good recordkeeping prac­tices in the first place.

I keep my registration certificates in file folders, sorted by year. Depending on how many you have, you might also consider putting them in three-ring binders, sorted by year.

Although copyright registration certificates are important documents, they’re merely records of a copyright ownership claim, and they don’t represent the claim itself. This is a little different from other important documents you may have come across, like stock certificates or even checks, where the value of the asset it represents goes with the document. So, although you should keep certificates in a safe, easily accessible place (so you don’t have to pay the Copyright Office to issue a replacement), you don’t generally need to worry about keeping them in a safe deposit box or anything like that.

Updating Your Electronic Image Archive 

Keeping the certificates and deposit copies in a safe and easily identifiable location is a great start to your copyright registration recordkeeping, but the other half of the equation is to make sure that your electronic database is up-to-date. After all, that’s where most of your work probably takes place.

Here’s my relatively straightforward process using Lightroom:

  1. Switch to the Library module in Adobe Lightroom and create a col­lection set called “Copyright Registrations” by clicking the + icon in the Collections panel and selecting Create Collection Set. The Create Collection Set dialog box appears.

Copyright Registration

  1. Give your collection set a name. I called mine “Copyright Registrations,” but you can call it whatever you’d like. Make sure the “Inside a collection set” box is unchecked, and click Create.

Copyright Certificate

  1. Click the + icon again in the Collections panel, and select Create Collection. The Create Collection dialog box appears.

copyright certificate

  1. Give your collection a name. I typically use the title that I provided the Copyright Office as the title of this work on the registration form. If you’ve already selected the images that are part of the collection or group, go ahead and check the “Include selected photos” box. If you haven’t selected the images, leave that box unchecked. You can easily drag them into the collection after you create it. When you’re done, click Create.

copyright certificate

  1. Once you’ve created the collection, switch to Grid mode if you’re not already in it, and select all the images in the collection by pressing Command-A (Mac) or Ctrl-A (PC).
  1. Find the Metadata panel on the right-hand side and make sure that you have IPTC selected from the drop-down list at the top of the panel.

Copyright registration

  1. Unfortunately, while the IPTC metadata standard includes certain copyright-related fields (like the copyright status of the work and cer­tain identifying information about the copyright owner), it does not include a place to include the copyright registration number.

Copyright registration

There are two ways to handle this: one is to select some other IPTC field that you don’t typically use and put the registration informa­tion there instead. That’s what I’ve been doing for many years, using the JobID or Job Identifier field in the Workflow section.

The major drawback of this approach is that it’s inconsistent with the IPTC standard. The whole point of having an international standard like IPTC is that everyone using it speaks the same language, and by using a field for something that it isn’t intended for, you could cause confusion down the road if you distribute images that contain that metadata to some organization (say, a stock photo agency) that does use that field. So, for your own internal purposes, it’s probably fine, but a much cleaner way to incorporate copyright registration infor­mation into your images is to use a Lightroom plugin that effectively extends the software’s metadata capabilities. PLUS for Lightroom is a tool from that incorporates dozens of additional metadata fields from the PLUS standard, including copyright registration number. As of this writing, the plugin is about $25 and available from Photographer’s Toolbox.

Copyright registration

  1. Regardless of which method you choose, the purpose of this step is to record the registration number in the metadata of the images that are registered under that number. Enter the registration number in the field of your choice. Because you have multiple image files selected, Lightroom may warn you that you’re trying to bulk-update the metadata. Click Apply to Selected and Lightroom will make the update to your catalog.

copyright registration

If you’re lucky, you’ll never actually need your copyright registration certificates, but in the event someone uses your work unlawfully, or you need to demonstrate your ownership of a particular image for some reason, following the simple steps outlined here will make it easier and much less stressful.

For more tips on maintaining your images and maximizing your intellectual property rights, check out my book, Copyright Workflow for Photographers: Protecting, Managing, and Sharing Digital Images. Art Law Journal readers can enjoy 35% off print or electronic editions by ordering directly through Peachpit Press, using the offer code PEACHPIT35.

About the author

Chris Reed

Chris Reed is a Los Angeles-based photographer and lawyer. He practices copyright law in the  media and entertainment industries and is the author of Copyright Workflow for Photographers: Protecting, Managing, and Sharing Digital Images from Peachpit Press.

Add Comment

Click here to post a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The Latest From Artrepreneur

  • Art Walks Put California on Parade

    For most Californians, walking yields to driving as the main mode of transportation. Driving is such a driving force for the state’s residents that “Saturday Night Live” created a recurring sketch about soap opera characters […]

  • The Future is Bright, Say Art Entrepreneurs

    According to a new report by the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP) the old adage of the struggling artist may officially be a myth. SNAAP’s special report, “Career Skills and Entrepreneurship Training for […]

  • Artist Profile: Natalia Nakazawa — Art, Work, and Life

    Natalia Nakazawa is a visual artist who works in mixed media to create paintings, tapestries, and collages. Her latest installation was displayed in a window of the iconic art deco Clocktower Building in Brooklyn’s DUMBO neighborhood. The […]

  • Art Business Conferences for the Art Entrepreneur

    Are you on your way to becoming a thriving art entrepreneur? Check out these upcoming art business conferences to increase your chances for success! The post Art Business Conferences for the Art Entrepreneur appeared first on Artrepreneur. […]

  • Eight Artist in Residence Programs to Launch Your Career

    We’ve previously reviewed how important it is to craft a bio and resume that details your art career, and today we’ll discuss one essential element that’s sure to make your career stand out: the Artist in Residence. Artist in […]

  • Write an Artist Bio to Get Noticed

    Most artists are used to expressing themselves in creative ways, but fewer understand the importance of expressing who they are in words. In this article, we'll review the creating an artist bio while offering some useful tips on its content. The […]

  • Balancing a Full-Time Job with Fulfilling Creativity

    Need more time in your day to work on creative endeavors? Here are few ideas that may help. The post Balancing a Full-Time Job with Fulfilling Creativity appeared first on Artrepreneur. […]

  • Launching an Art Startup? These Online Resources Can Help.

    Launching your own art startup can be scary. Here are a few tips and online resources that may help. The post Launching an Art Startup? These Online Resources Can Help. appeared first on Artrepreneur. […]

  • Expanding Your Art Business Beyond You [Part 2]

    Are you ready to expand your art business? Here's what you need to know about hiring and terminating employees, employee retirement plans and vacation and sick leave. The post Expanding Your Art Business Beyond You [Part 2] appeared first on […]

  • You Don’t Have to be an Artist to Work with Art

    Just because you don’t possess any artistic abilities – or just because you haven’t made it as an artist yet – doesn’t mean you can’t have a creative, art-filled career. There are plenty of “art […]

  • Expanding Your Art Business Beyond You

    Artists successfully running their own art business may be ready to hire an employee. We've covered everything you need to know, from tax requirements to insurance obligations. The post Expanding Your Art Business Beyond You appeared first on […]

  • What Photographers Need to Know About Shooting People [with Cameras]

    In this article, we'll review a key example of publicity and privacy issues, and what you need to know to keep your photography in the clear. The post What Photographers Need to Know About Shooting People [with Cameras] appeared first on […]

  • Getting What You Want: Basic Negotiation Tips For Creatives

    Selling and negotiating can be very intimidating. Fear not! Here are some common sense tips to negotiation that can help you get what you want. The post Getting What You Want: Basic Negotiation Tips For Creatives appeared first on Artrepreneur. […]

  • How to Sell Art [Without Being Annoying]

    Most artists will tell you that the hardest part of their job is trying to sell their artwork to the masses. Sure, they love the creativity and the freedom being an artist provides, but how can they make a living unless they sell their work? While […]

  • Museums Deck the Halls with Holiday Cheer for All

    Check out seasonal exhibits from some of the country’s top art museums. The post Museums Deck the Halls with Holiday Cheer for All appeared first on Artrepreneur. […]

  • Why Galleries Should Get Down with Art Fairs [A Useful Guide]

    As we're winding down from celebrating Art Basel Miami Beach, we're thinking about all the different ways galleries and artists can benefit from participating in these international art fairs. The post Why Galleries Should Get Down with Art Fairs [A […]

  • Your All Access Pass to Art Basel

    Dying to tackle Art Basel Miami Beach, but not sure where to start? You won't want to miss these stunning displays of the best of contemporary art. The post Your All Access Pass to Art Basel appeared first on Artrepreneur. […]

  • Get Your Networking on at Miami Art Week

    Miami Art Week is the perfect time for artists to network and gather contacts to keep building an art business. Check out five events primed to bring new opportunities. The post Get Your Networking on at Miami Art Week appeared first on Artrepreneur. […]

  • The Garment District: From Buttons and Bows to a Home for Art

    The Garment District Alliance has worked hard to evolve the area from a faded industrial center to a revitalized business district committed to bringing art to the streets. The post The Garment District: From Buttons and Bows to a Home for Art […]

  • United States of the Art: Six Destinations for the Great American Road Trip

    A cross-country road trip provides plenty of opportunities to create art. The post United States of the Art: Six Destinations for the Great American Road Trip appeared first on Artrepreneur. […]

  • How Does a Photography Business Make Money?

    Photographers are uniquely positioned within the art world to earn money through various revenue streams. Here's how you find work. The post How Does a Photography Business Make Money? appeared first on Artrepreneur. […]

  • The Basics of Insurance Part II: Health Insurance for Artists

    In this article, we’ll a type of insurance that you’ll want to think about as you build your art business – health insurance for artists. The post The Basics of Insurance Part II: Health Insurance for Artists appeared first on […]

  • The Emergence of the Creative Entrepreneur

    The term “starving artist” has long been part of our lexicon, signifying the significant struggle artists face bringing their creative work to market. For the lucky few that survive until they have paid their dues, the career can be […]

  • Seth Godin and Marketing for the Art World

    A good marketing strategy can help grow a business if done well. Let Seth Godin show you how to be a modern marketer in his skillshare video series. The post Seth Godin and Marketing for the Art World appeared first on Artrepreneur. […]

  • These Five Companies Put the Art in Startup

    Technology and art are intersecting in more ways than ever, and today’s art startups are revolutionizing the way art is consumed and collected. Entrepreneurs have been intersecting art and technology since the start of the .com boom. Portfolio […]

  • The Art Museum In The Digital Age

    I talked with Steve Konick, Director of Public Relations and Marketing for the Currier Museum of Art, in Manchester, New Hampshire, to understand why art museums are still relevant The post The Art Museum In The Digital Age appeared first on […]

  • Should I Open a Corporation for My Art Business?

    About 375,000 visual artists claim to be self-employed yet many don't realize that their personal assets can be at risk. Find out how opening a corporation can help protect you. The post Should I Open a Corporation for My Art Business? appeared […]

  • Model Citizens and Protected Images: Work-for-Hire and Right of Publicity

    Last week, we discussed model releases, and an example concerning a model whose image was being used by a company in a more liberal manner than what had originally been agreed upon by the model and the company. You may recall that in this instance, […]

  • Does Copyright and Trademark Law Protect 3D Printing?

    3D printing is a relatively new art form is sweeping the internet and worrying designers and Hollywood executives alike. Along with the advent of 3D printing, a steady stream of piracy and copyright infringement cases have been reported by industry […]

  • Consider this tip before signing an International Art Contract

    Most art galleries participate in art fairs throughout the year. Many of those fairs are international, such as Art Basel Switzerland or the Hong International Art Fair. International art fairs are an excellent way to position your gallery in […]

  • Six Steps to Safer Image Sharing

    Despite the unfortunate reality that image sharing on the Internet can lead to misappropriation of your work, there are some steps that can minimize the risks. The post Six Steps to Safer Image Sharing appeared first on Artrepreneur. […]

  • Does Freedom of Speech Protect Taking Photos of People Through Windows?

    Fine art Photographer Arne Svenson spent a year secretly taking photos of the Fosters, a family living across the street from his home. Does the Foster's Right to Privacy outweigh Svenson's Freedom of Expression? The post Does Freedom of Speech […]

  • Four Reasons Artists Should Hire Lawyers

    Think artists can't afford to hire lawyers? Actually, artists can't afford to not have one by their side. Here's four reasons why. The post Four Reasons Artists Should Hire Lawyers appeared first on Artrepreneur. […]

  • Death and Taxes: Save Millions Through Careful Estate Planning

    Artists and collectors can minimize estate taxes on artworks by employing a planning strategy and understanding the complexities involved with assessing the work's fair market value. The post Death and Taxes: Save Millions Through Careful Estate […]

  • Can You Spot a Fake? The Trouble with Authenticating Art

    What are the challenges for collectors in authenticating artworks? What are the legal remedies when a purchased artwork is discovered to be a forgery? The post Can You Spot a Fake? The Trouble with Authenticating Art appeared first on Artrepreneur. […]