Why Registering Your Copyrights is More Essential Than You Think
by Aaron M. Arce Stark
© Ethan Yang Photography
January 11, 2017 —
With the viral reach and ease of sharing images in the digital age, it has become much easier for a would-be infringer to illegally access, use and profit from a photographer’s images. Now more than ever, professional photographers must learn how to promote their work while also protecting it from infringement.
Copyright Basics: Watermarking is Not Enough
This is not to say that successful copyright enforcement requires the filing of a lawsuit. But if the possibility of a lawsuit and the benefits that come with early registration are unavailable, then an infringer has less incentive to immediately comply with a photographer’s “cease and desist” and compensation demands.
While watermarking an image with the photographer’s name and a copyright symbol “©” may deter a would-be infringer, and can be helpful in the enforcement process in some ways, watermarking alone does not offer any of the time-saving and financial legal benefits that come with registering an image with the U.S. Copyright Office before infringement occurs.
Registering Early And Often
These benefits include: payment of an award in a sum no less than $200 to $30,000 per infringement; payment of all attorney’s fees; and, where there is proof that an infringer knew that the copyright was registered at the time of infringement (for example, the photographer placed a watermark on the image), you are entitled to enhanced damages for “willful infringement” of up to $150,000.
For all these reasons, early registration means an infringer is more likely to settle a dispute quickly, without the need of a lawsuit. But all of these advantages and rights are simply lost if you register the image after the date of infringement. Waiting for infringement to register, therefore, not only compromises the leverage you would otherwise have against an infringer, but also means that the time, expense and difficulty of filing a lawsuit to enforce your rights may not be financially worthwhile.
The Time is Now
In business, watching someone profit from your work, without permission, is both frustrating and infuriating. It is time photographers empower themselves against infringement, and prompt copyright registration can be one useful tool to that end.
Aaron M. Arce Stark is a lawyer for artists and entrepreneurs. Learn more about his law firm at arcestarklaw.com. He is sharing his legal knowledge to Rangefinder monthly—let us know what issues or topics you want covered by sending your questions on photo- and law-related topics that you want Aaron to answer to email@example.com.
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