Some time ago I began registering all my photographs with the US Copyright Office. Like all photographers I've witnessed a massive increase of theft of my work in recent years. And like others I've found it difficult, if not impossible, to get reasonable compensation for these infringements, especially if the infringer is in a foreign country.
But one country, the US, provides very hefty penalties for copyright theft – so long as the work has been registered prior to the infringement in question. So what would happen if I, a foreigner, registered my work and subsequently found it used without permission in the US? Would US copyright law really provide me with the same protection that it does the country's own citizens? Last week I got my answer.
In January this year I found one of my photos on a website owned by a major US media company. In February I engaged attorney Barbara Hoffman of the Hoffman Law Firm to handle the matter. Last week the infringer paid a substantial settlement. As is normal in such settlements no party admitted liability. But media organisations don't usually write five figure cheques without good reason: draw your own conclusions.
However only a tiny percentage of US photographers bother to register their images; virtually no foreign photographers do so. Two reasons are usually given: that the registration process is too complex, and that the cost is too high. Neither of these is true. Since the US Copyright Office began accepting online registrations the process has become both simpler and cheaper. While the system appears intimidating at first, that's simply because it allows for the registration of so many different kinds of creative works. Concentrate only what applies to photographers, and the process becomes much clearer; and the registration process has pop-up guide notes at each stage. For the truly challenged, both Photoshelter and the Photo Attorney have detailed guides with blow-by-blow screenshots of actual registrations. How hard can it be?
As for cost, online registration is $35 a time, you can register an unlimited number of images in a batch for that fee, and you have 90 days from the moment of exposure to register new work. So simply register your photographs in batches 5 times a year. Cost per annum for complete US copyright protection, $175. That doesn't sound expensive to me: how much did you say you spent on that new lens?