An insect photographer has taken in nearly $250,000 cash, in his pocket, from pursuing copyright infringement claims. An architectural photographer has made an extra $150,000 on the side. How is this possible? They religiously register their photos with the US Copyright Office to make it a fundamental part of their workflow.
In 2010, ASMP published a survey reporting that less than 3% of professional photographers registered their photos with the USCO. In spite of all of the time, energy and resources poured into attempting to educate the industry on the benefits of copyright registration, the fact remains that the vast majority of professional photographers still don’t do it. If they only knew what they were giving up!
So how does this work? How can registering your photos of bugs, buildings, seascapes, celebrities, dogs,… with the USCO potentially lead to an extra six figures in your income? Timely registration, solid records of your past license history, and diligently monitoring for unauthorized use of your work.
While a number of factors have to come together for you to realize the results that these two photographers have, timely registration is fundamental in positioning you to have this kind of success combatting copyright infringers. When pursuing infringement claims in the US, an image is considered registered timely if it was registered within three months of initial publication (not 90 days), or it was registered prior to the start date of the specific infringement. At this point, I should note that I am not an attorney and so what I am writing should not be taken as legal advice. But you can review much of this information directly by referring to the Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17) and the Compendium of U.S. Copyright Office Practices, Third Edition.
So, back to the question of how all of this drives more revenue opportunities for you. If the image is registered timely, you then have the the option to seek statutory damages of up to $150,000 per infringed image plus attorney’s fees. If it’s not registered timely, then you’re limited to seeking actual damages (i.e. typically, your normal market rate) plus the infringer’s profits derived from the infringing use, which is notoriously difficult to prove in cases of web use. While most cases never get to trial, the realization that they could be forced to pay statutory damages and your attorney’s fees brings infringers to the table and puts you in a much stronger negotiating position. Timely registration can be the difference between settling for a few hundred dollars and settling for thousands.
I’m often asked by photographers, especially those with significant archives, if they should even bother registering their photos if they are already beyond three months from publication. Indeed, there is still value to registering them, even if they are not guaranteed to be registered timely for a given case. To even file a copyright infringement claim in a U.S. federal court, a US citizen must register the image. If you have an ongoing case where opposing counsel decides to request the copyright information, and you do not have it registered, that could be the end of your case since they know you cannot sue. Even if you don’t intend to ultimately file a complaint in court, having the USCO certificate of registration can be helpful in negotiations when the opposing party is simply looking for some proof of ownership.
Additionally, photos are constantly being posted and reposted, so you would be entitled to seek statutory damages and attorney’s fees for infringements that commence after the date of registration, establishing your image’s registered timely status.
How does ImageRights come into play with copyright registration exactly? It’s simple, we’re the first company to have fully automated and greatly simplified the USCO registration process. Many photographers who have tried to register their photos through the eCO website themselves ultimately give up because the process is so cumbersome and they often get stumped by the questions, many of which aren’t even relevant when registering photographs. Their other equally unappealing option is to pay a copyright attorney $300 or more to register it for them, so either way they are losing time and money. ImageRights has made registration quick, easy and cost effective, with most being able to submit their USCO registrations through our site in less than five minutes.
And to make it even faster and easier, Lightroom users can install our ImageRights Adobe Lightroom plugin to register their photos with the US Copyright Office from directly within Lightroom.
You will see the payoff for making the effort to register once you start pursuing your infringement claims. Based on our experience here at ImageRights, the average settlement for an image not registered timely is about $1,000. And while there are a number of factors at play for any given case, the average settlement for cases involving registered timely images, which are therefore much more appealing to our US copyright attorneys, jumps to $15,000- $20,000. And that’s a pretty darn good return on the five minutes spent on the ImageRights website registering your photos with the US Copyright Office.
Joe’s career spans more than twenty years in the design, development, operations, sales, and marketing of communications and internet-based services at eFax.com, j2 Global Communications, and WebMessenger. In 2007, Joe began collaborating with professional photographer Ted VanCleave on solutions to the challenges that commercial photographers, photo agencies and publishers face with respect to online copyright protection; and in 2008 the two founded ImageRights International, Inc. Joe holds a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin, completed the Program for Leadership Development at Harvard Business School and has served on the Picture Archive Council of America’s International Committee.
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