Copyright Registration Law Set to Change, Could Cost Photographers Significantly More

Copyright Registration Law Set to Change, Could Cost Photographers Significantly More

The cost of registering unpublished photos is set to increase significantly after the US Copyright Office announced plans to reduce the number of photos that can be registered at any one time. 

As of February 20, 2018, the new rules will be in effect and will mean that a maximum of 750 unpublished photos can be registered at once. Previously, there was no limit with mass-registering photos.

The current system allows photographers to register an unlimited number of photos via the Electronic Copyright Office, at the cost of a $55 fee. Photographer John Harrington of Photo Business & News Forum has voiced his concern about the new legislation, calling it “disturbing.” Of the financial repercussions of the 750 picture limit, he said “[It] means that a group registration of 5,500 images that I could previously register for $55 using the online eCO will now cost me $520, or almost a ten-fold increase.”

Harrington also questioned the steep increase in price, remarking on the “little extra cost” the few sheets of certificate paper would cost for registering, for example, 5,500 images instead of 750.

There were some positives though, with individual photos registered as part of a group being covered individually and the fact a single registration now covers pictures from multiple photographers, such as in the case of second-shooter situations, as long as the legal author of the photos is one person.

Read the new rules here.

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12 Comments

After reading the rules that you provided the link to it effects both published and unpublished photos.

Brian Rodgers Jr.'s picture

If the US Copyright Office is going to start charging more for registering your work, they should also expedite the process of receiving a physical registration. Waiting over a year to receive a registration in the mail is ridiculous

Simon Patterson's picture

It makes no sense to me that formal registration is required in the first place in the USA, to gain full legal copyright protections and remedies.

Formal registration is not required to "gain full legal copyright protections and remedies" in the US. Formal registration simply makes it easier for the copyright holder obtain restitution for infringement. This is because violating a registered copyright carries "statutory damages", something not all countries copyright laws provides.

Fstoppers posted a video a few days ago where Monte Isom explains the difference between registered and unregistered works and what the infringed party needs to prove to receive restitution. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mP8bQsecXx0

In general layman's terms, and I am not a lawyer so don't quote me on this, registration puts the full burden on the copyright violator(guilty until proven innocent), with minimum pre-determined penalties. With violation of an unregistered work it is up to the copyright holder to PROVE how much the infringing party benefited. A person or company that infringes on a registered copyrighted work can really do nothing but settle(and pay your lawyer fees on top of that), while the same infringement of an unregistered work allows them to possibly use their large legal resources to drag out litigation until you finally give up.

Simon Patterson's picture

Without paying and registering my photos, it is my understanding that I cannot in the USA:

1. File a court case in a claim for copyright infringement;

2. Claim any legal costs for any legal action undertaken in pursuing copyright infringements; or

3. Claim any statutory damages for copyright infringement.

If that doesn't constitute a "failing to allow photographers to gain full legal copyright protections and remedies", then I can't imagine what does.

I highly doubt that "guilty until proved innocent" is a factor either way.

Happy to stand corrected on any of the above, but that is my understanding after reading much and consulting experts on the topic over the years.

Watch the video I posted above.
1: You ARE able to file a claim for copyright infringement even without a registered copyright.
2: Yes, you are responsible for your own legal fees in such a case, so you would need to factor that in as part your claim where as they are AUTOMATICALLY covered in the case of a registered copyright. This is most likely in place to prevent frivolous law suits from tying up the courts, while clear violation of a registered copyright is much faster to settle in court.
3: The reason you are not granted "statutory" claims is that it is possible for the "infringing" party to claim that they had no way to know the copyright status of an image possibly obtained from a third party. It would fall below the legal standard of "innocent infringement", as they were acting in good faith based on the word of the third party supplying the image.
If the image is registered it shows, in the eyes of the law, they failed to do their due diligence in ascertaining the copyright status. This is what I meant by "guilty until proven innocent". There is a public record of the copyright on file. Think of it as getting a speeding ticket on a road with no speed limit signs as opposed to speeding past a row of speed limit signs.

Anonymous's picture

Simon, you are correct that you cannot sue for copyright infringement without registering your copyright.

https://jux.law/why-you-must-register-a-copyright/

James Hill is spreading nonsense. In the above post, he admits that "he is not a lawyer" yet he is posting "legal" advice. Your best bet is to contact a lawyer who deals in copyright instead of listening to "experts" who are not lawyers tell you what to do.

I am sure James means well, but he is actually doing more harm by posting false advice.
Good luck trying to file a copyright infringement lawsuit without a registered copyright. It is not going to be successful in the United States.

You're right, I'm sorry. What I should have said was that registration BEFORE publication/dissemination/infringement is not required to file a suit though registration, even if done after discovering infringement, may be required before filing suit(the circuits are somewhat split) and will be required at some point during the legal proceedings.
In Reed Elsevier, Inc. v. Muchnick SCOTUS held that violation of unregistered copyright is still within the jurisdiction of the court, though only under certain circumstances. Because of this, some courts will allow filing a claim before registering and others will simply dismiss on lack of subject matter jurisdiction. So yes, at some point you will need to cough up $35 to register the infringed material.
My entire point earlier was that "early" registration provides more legal leverage to the plaintiff and provides for statutory damages and lawyer fees, but legal relief is still possible without "early" registration.

Lastly, "he admits that "he is not a lawyer" yet he is posting "legal" advice"

If at ANYTIME, ANYONE, takes ANYTHING from the internet as "legal advice"...(i was going to make a crack about walking and chewing gum at the same time, but I won't) they get what they pay for.

Simon Patterson's picture

Randy thanks for the link and confirmation, which authoritatively outlines the facts very clearly. There is much confusion around this topic of US copyrights; James is just one of many well-meaning people on photography websites who are confused by it.

I think US copyright law stinks. It is ridiculous that photographers need to expend time and money to register their images, before they can gain full access to copyright protections. Copyright should be fully afforded upon shutter press, both practically as well as theoretically.

Ryan Burleson's picture

Thank You for this post

Jon Miller's picture

cannot access the copyright office online they are down until 19 Feb, has anyone else found this to be true?

Destination 360's picture

I hope legislators follow through with copyright office proposal to establish a small claims court that will help protect creative work from copyright infringement. Currently it's very difficult to win anything unless you have a big enough case that interests a lawyer. If you care then add your voice. https://copyrightalliance.org/get-involved/add-your-voice/