Copyright registration

Last week I performed my semi-annual copyright registration ritual, and in the middle of the paperwork it occurred to me that this might make an absolutely scintillating blog post. So, here’s why copyright registration is important, and here’s how to do it.

U.S. law is generous towards photographers. Photographs are automatically copyrighted as soon as they are taken. It doesn’t matter if you’re taking happy snaps of your pet cat or professionally shooting a Hollywood premiere- you have the copyright.

What does having a copyright do for you? Not very much, it turns out. If you’d like that copyright to carry legal weight then it needs to have the extra step taken of registering it with the government. I’ve never taken anyone to court over copyright infringement (and I blanche at the thought, to be honest), but I have had several instances where being able to show the reg number to unscrupulous photo “borrowers” helped bring about speedy resolution and fair payment. I routinely register my copyright, and it’s surprisingly easy. One form and one fee can cover thousands of photographs.


Here are the ingredients:

  1. The Short Form VA, available from
  2. 2 blank CD-Rs, preferably high-quality archival grade.
  3. A check for $45 made out to “Register of Copyrights”
  4. A mailing envelope.

I keep a folder on my computer labelled “copyright”. Whenever I process a new batch of photographs I save small, 600 pixel-width jpgs of each image to the copyright folder. I use 600 pixel-width because I’ve already made them up for, but the exact size isn’t too important. They just have to be large enough to be recognizable and small enough so that many can fit onto a CD. If you’ve got lots of images to process, photoshop can automate them in batches.

Once I accumulate enough photos to make the $45 reg fee worthwhile (usually around 500-1000 images suits me) I burn the copyright folder to two identical CD-Rs, fill out a Short Form VA per directions, write out a check, and send everything to:

Library of Congress
Copyright Office
101 Independence Avenue SE
Washington DC 20559-6000

It takes less time than it took me to write this post. A few months later the bureaucratic cogs turn over and I get my form back with the all-important registration number. Now I can sue the pants off infringers sleep soundly.

For all the gritty details, see The Photo Attorney.

3 thoughts on “Copyright registration”

  1. I never attempt to sell my pictures so far, I read in forums about pictures copyright, but never seriously thought to apply it (maybe I undervalue my works). You’re welcomed to have a look..

  2. Pingback: Online Copyright Registration « Myrmecos Blog

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