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How to Copyright an Image

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If you are wondering how to copyright an image, you are not alone.  There is a common misconception that images cannot be copyrighted or the copyrighting process is egregiously challenging.  In reality, it is easier to copyright an image than most assume.  However, merely searching the web for “how to copyright an image” will not suffice.  

United States copyright law provides protection for all forms of original expression inclusive of images.  The term “images” applies to more than photographs.  In the context of copyright law, the word “image” also means computer graphics, paintings and drawings.  Though copyright protection commences the moment an image is captured in tangible form, regardless of the medium, formal copyright registration is necessary for truly comprehensive legal protection.  Fail to copyright your image and you will lack the legal recourse necessary to properly protect it.  Let’s take a quick look at how to copyright an image.

 

How to Copyright a Picture: Fill out the Application for Registration 

The application to register the copyright claim can be filed online or by mailing a tangible paper form.  Once the completed application and the accompanying filing fees and image copies are received by the copyright office, this group will provide a certificate of registration.  The advantage of filing the application for registration on the web is the filing fee is comparably low.  Furthermore, online filing expedites the time necessary for processing.  The icing on the cake is the fact that filing online provides the applicant with the ability to monitor the status of the application. 

In certain instances, the Copyright Office permits the filing of a single application for numerous images.  As an example, if multiple photos were published in the same year, it might be possible to file one application to register the copyright for all of those images as a collective. However, attempting to copyright an image on your own is a mistake as the process is quite intricate. 

Ask anyone who has attempted to copyright an image in a DIY (do it yourself) manner about the process. They will likely admit they ended up leaning on a savvy copyright lawyer for assistance.  Our copyright lawyers are here to sweat all the small stuff of the copyright process on your behalf.  So don’t spend your precious free time worrying about how to copyright an image.  Put your faith in our legal team and we will expedite this process on your behalf.

 

How to Copyright an Image: Submit the Required Deposit

Copies of the image for deposit must be provided to the copyright office when submitting the application for registration.  The Library of Congress mandates a copy of the image be submitted within three months of publication in the USA.  The registration deposit is not the same as the Library of Congress deposit.  Thankfully, the same deposit can be used to fulfill each of these requirements if you are filing the registration for the copyright of an image previously published.  Governmental regulations mandate the deposit of a copy of the unpublished image along with two copies of the image already published.  There is also the potential for special deposit requirements to apply in the event that there is limited storage space.

 

The “Best Edition” of the Image 

The image you would like to copyright must be the “best edition” when submitted to the United States Copyright Office.  The words “best edition” mean the image version that is most widely distributed if it is in print form.  If your image is not distributed, an 8 in. by 10 in. glossy version is the best edition.  Once the best edition is chosen, an electronic file of the image must be created.

 

The Certificate of Copyright 

If you are questioning how to copyright an image, the certificate of copyright is particularly important.  Once the United States Copyright Office requirements for copyright are met, it will take six months for review and hopefully, the granting of the certificate of copyright transmitted in the mail.  However, there is the potential for delay or denial if the hard copy of the image submitted is transmitted in an envelope as opposed to a protective box.  Sending an image for copyright within an envelope has the potential to result in a damaged photo that is ultimately denied copyright.  This is just one of the many potential pitfalls of the image copyrighting process.  

 

Protection After the Copyright 

Once your image is copyrighted, it will be fully protected in accordance with copyright law.  Publishers generally honor copyright law yet there are some exceptions.  Those who copyright an image are usually able to obtain financial compensation from parties looking to use the image.  If you fail to copyright an image, there’s a chance it will end up being used, potentially for profit.  An image without a copyright might end up used on a number of different websites or even in print media.  Keep in mind, if you put your photos on the web, they are publicly available yet not in the public domain in the context of the law.  We would be remiss not to mention image copyrights are fully valid in every country that complies with the Berne Convention.

 

Putting the Copyright Notice on Your Image 

The only way to protect the copyright is by putting the copyright notice on the picture.  Otherwise, people will not know your image has a copyright.  The copyright notice is comprised of the copyright symbol, a circle around the letter “c” and the year the copyright for the image was registered.  However, registration of the copyright is not complete until the United States Copyright Office receives every part of the application including the forms, the fee and a minimum of two copies of the image in question.

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