Copyright Your Images

As a school photographer, you may not feel like it is necessary to register your images with the U.S. copyright office. However, there has been a few cases, where if the photographer had take the time to do so, they would have been much better protected.

I don’t think a school photographer would ever sue a parent over copyright infringement. The publicity alone would be enough to put the photographer out of business. But, there have been some cases, where the media copied the image from a yearbook or received one from a parent and used it without the permission of the photographer.

The authority on Copyright issues is:

Al Hopper, CAE
Director of Membership, Copyright & Government Affairs
229 Peachtree Street NE, Suite 2200
Atlanta, GA 30303-1608 USA
phone: 800-339-5451 x232
ahopper@PPA.com

He is from the Professional Photographers of America. They actively lobby congress for image copyright laws.

Images must be registered with the U.S. copyright office. You have up to 3 months after an image is taken to register it. For a flat fee of about $30.00 you can register your images in bulk with the copyright office. This means you can register all of your images 4 times a year (everything you’ve taken over a period of 3 months) and be protected. This doesn’t mean that someone won’t still steal your images, but you have done what you can to legally protect yourself.

Unless a work is registered before a copyright infringement takes place OR within ninety (90) days of first publication, damage awards may be limited to “actual damages”. This is often the fee a creator would have been paid for the work had it been licensed properly.

The problem comes from the fact that copyright law is a federal law and copyright claims must be prosecuted in Federal court. This can be very expensive. Just filing the claim and initial briefs can cost in excess of $10,000.00! In fact, a protracted copyright case can cost hundreds thousands of dollars in legal and court costs!

If your actual damages are only a few hundred dollars, say for an infringement of photograph in a ¼ page ad in a local newspaper, you need to be really motivated or independently wealthy to bring the case to court.

However, if your images are registered, you are eligible for actual damages as well as up to $200,000 in punitive damages per infringement. And, the courts may (and frequently do) force the infringer to pay all legal and court costs. The fear of the legal bill is often the leverage that motivates an infringer to settle a claim long before it moves to court. Registration clearly is the “big stick” for independent creators.

Here is a simple procedure to register all of your work. Keep in mind that you need to register every three months for full protection. Images must be registered before an infringement takes place OR within 90 days of first publication. Registering your current work every three months will keep you within that legal time frame.

You will bulk register all of your images as unpublished images using short form VA. http://www.copyright.gov/forms/formvas.pdf.

1.Setup a folder on your desktop and label it “Copyright”
2.On each assignment you photograph, simply make a low-resolution j-peg copy of each image and drop it in the file.
3.At the end of the second month, write the folder to CD-ROM
4.Fill out Short Form VA completely
5.Write a check to the Register of Copyright for $30.00
6.Send the submission, in a box, to: Library of Congress, Copyright Office, 101 Independence SE, Washington, DC 20559

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