Copyright photos now or regret it down the road. Whether you’re a professional photographer or hobbyist, protecting your photos is crucial. In the US, copyright is established as soon as you click the shutter on your camera. On top of that, according to the Berne Convention you automatically own the copyright on any original photographs that you take.

However, that’s not enough to protect you in case you need to file a lawsuit for copyright infringement. As such, registering your photos with the U.S. Copyright Office is a smart choice.

copyright.gov homepage screenshot
Copyright.gov homepage screenshot

In this post, we’ll explain how to copyright your photos through the U.S. Copyright Office as well as go over the pros and cons of doing so.

How to Copyright Photos With the U.S. Copyright Office

The U.S. Copyright Office allows you to register copyright ownership for 750 photos at one time for a $55 fee. Let’s go through the process, step by step.

1. Visit the U.S. Copyright Office Website

To start, you’ll need to visit the official website for the U.S. Copyright Office and create an account.

U.S. copyright office website
Creating an account on the U.S. Copyright Office website

2. Start The Registration Process

Once you’ve completed the registration process, you’ll be redirected to the portal where you can start the registration process. You can choose to register a singular photo or a group of photos by clicking the appropriate link on the left-hand side.

register photos on copyright.gov
Registering photos

For this tutorial, I’ve selected the option to register a group of published photos.

registering published photos
Registering published photos

3. Choose Group Type

When you click the start button, you’ll need to select group type from the drop-down and confirm that you meet eligibility requirements.

Choosing a group type on copyright.gov
Choosing a group type

4. Submit Group Information

The next step requires you to fill out information for the entire group of photos you’re submitting. You’ll need to create a new group for the photos by clicking the New button.

Submitting group info on copyright.gov
Submitting group info

Then, enter the group name and fill out the information about the photos which include publication year, number of photos, and year of completion.

5. Submit Photo Titles

Once you’re done entering group information, you’ll need to click the New button again and enter the information for individual photos.

Add photo titles on copyright.gov
Add photo titles

Enter how many photos will be submitted on this screen and then enter their titles. Keep in mind that the titles are limited to 1955 characters so if you’re submitting a large number of photos, you’ll have to repeat this step until all the photo titles have been added.

6. Enter Author Information

When you’re done entering titles for your photos, click the Continue button to proceed with the registration process. You’ll need to enter your name or your photography business name.

author info
Input author info

7. Enter Claimant Information

The next step requires you to enter claimant information. You can easily do this by clicking the Add me button to have your information automatically filled out.

define the claimant on copyright.gov
Define the claimant

8. Fill Out Rights and Permissions Information

You’ll also need to provide the information for the person who should be contacted regarding copyright management information. If you have a lawyer or an attorney who handles this for you, you can fill out their information. You can also enter your own information by clicking the Add me button.

Defining permissions on copyright.gov
Defining permissions

9. Enter Correspondent Information

On the next screen, you’ll need to enter the contact information for the person that should be contacted regarding your copyright registration application.

Correspondant info on copyright.gov
Correspondant info

10. Enter Your Address

On this screen, enter your mailing address where your copyright registration certificate should be mailed to.

Filling the address field on copyright.gov
Filling the address field

11. Fill Out Special Handling Information

Here, you can request expedited service if you meet certain criteria. This includes any pending litigation. Note that this section is optional and you can simply click Continue if you don’t need expedited service.

Define any special handling on copyright.gov
Define any special handling

12. Certify and Review Application

On the next screen, you’ll need to certify your application and confirm that you are indeed the author of the photos. You’ll also need to review your application and make sure all the information has been entered correctly.

review your application on copyright.gov
Review your application

13. Pay and Upload Your Photos

The last step is to submit payment for your copyright registration application. Once you have submitted payment, you can upload a copy of all the photos that you want to copyright as well as an Excel file with the photo titles in a zip file. The U.S. Copyright has a template that you can download and use.

14. Wait For Your Copyright Registration to Be Processed

All that’s left to do is wait for your copyright registration to be processed and for your certificate to arrive in the mail. Standard processing time for online applications is 3 months but can range between 1 and 6 months.

Pros and Cons of Protecting Your Photos With the U.S. Copyright Office

Now that you know how to copyright your photos, let’s go over the pros and cons of doing so.

The biggest benefit of registering your photos with the U.S. Copyright Office is the fact that it will help you if you decide to take legal action against the person, company or organization that’s using your photos without permission. In addition to that:

  • When you register photos with the U.S. Copyright Office, it puts your copyright ownership into public record. This automatically makes it impossible for people to claim they didn’t know your photos are copyright protected or that they belong to someone.
  • Another benefit of filing your registration for copyright is that you can recover statutory damages and fees for attorneys that represented you in the lawsuit against the infringing individual. You can recover fees as long as you filed your registration within 3 months of publishing work or at any time before someone used your photos.

As beneficial as it is to register your copyright ownership, it does come with one disadvantage which is cost. As mentioned earlier, you can register up to 750 photos for a one-time fee. If you’re a professional photographer, this means that you will more than likely need to file several copyright ownership registrations over the course of your professional career. The one-time fee cost can add up pretty quickly.

Other Ways to Copyright Photos

Aside from registering the copyright ownership for your photos, there are a couple of additional ways to protect your photos from being stolen and used without permission.

  • Adding a watermarkadding a watermark can help deter people from using your photos in the first place. Modula’s Watermark extension can help you watermark photos on your site.
  • Disabling right-click on your website – likewise, disabling right click and Alt click can help prevent people from downloading and using images posted on your website. You can easily enable this with Modula’s Protection extension.
  • Enabling hotlink protection – lastly, consider enabling hotlink protection so people can’t add a link to your photo on their website in order to display them.

If you’re a professional photographer you might be interested in learning How to sell your stock photos online for money & get up to $120 per image as well as finding out more about how to create an authenticity certificate for your photos.

Modula homepage screenshot
Modula homepage screenshot

Give Modula a try and you’ll get rid of the majority of your copywriting problems. This plugin offers you great solutions for a very reasonable price and amount of time spent doing it.

Final Thoughts

Unfortunately, online theft is a commonplace occurrence. As such, protecting your photos is necessary. If you’re a professional photographer, consider registering your photos with the U.S. Copyright Office so you can take appropriate legal action in the event the worst happens and your photos are used without permission.