Essential yet often misunderstood, copyright is something it’s worth taking some time to get your head around. At it’s most basic level, copyright is exactly that, the right to copy. As the creator of a photograph, copyright belongs to you (and for 70 years after your death, your heirs) in most cases from the moment you press the shutter. Like any rule there are exceptions, those being when you give/sign copyright away such as under a work made for hire agreement, as an employee or if you negotiate the rights away at some point in time.
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Today, we’ll just keep it simple and look at the vast majority of situations where the creator of the photograph holds the copyright. The easiest thing to remember is that if you shoot it, it’s yours. You and only you, can decide who can reproduce the image, display the image, publish the image, etc. Often overlooked, this also means that you can decide who cannot use the photograph.
The © symbol is often seen on works, so does that mean that photos without the copyright symbol are fair game? No, it doesn’t. While there are good reasons to include it, the absence of a copyright symbol does not mean that the image is public domain. You do not lose any rights by not displaying the copyright symbol.
It’s good practice for photographers to formally register their works with the US Copyright Office. This offers extra protection in case there is an infringement and you need to file a lawsuit against the offending party for statutory damages. Not registering images doesn’t mean that they aren’t protected copyright, it just means they aren’t registered. To register an image, or group of images, it must be both original (ie created by you and not a copy of someone else’s), and mustn’t have already had the rights signed away. Photographs fall under two categories – published and unpublished. Published images include works that you’ve sent to an agency, posted publicly on your blog or website, delivered to a client and so forth. Registering is possible to do online, and you can include a large number of images in the submission for a single, low fee, so it makes sense to do so.
Registration is not required for Australia, UK, Canada, NZ etc. Under the Berne Convention, works from outside the US are treated as registered.
There will be a follow up to this post in the near future.
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