What is copyright registration?

To assist in legal recourse, you can optionally register your copyrights by submitting copies of your photos to a government body.

“The purpose of copyright registration is to place on record a verifiable account of the date and content of the work in question, so that in the event of a legal claim, or case of infringement or plagiarism, the copyright owner can produce a copy of the work from an official government source.”
Wikipedia, Copyright registration

In America, all registrations go to the United States Copyright Office, which is a part of the Library of Congress and is based in Washington, D.C. Their website is

“U.S. Copyright Office is an office of public record for copyright registration and deposit of copyright material.”
U.S. Copyright Office

You can easily register copyrights online by uploading a group of photos and paying $45. In return, you receive a certificate of registration.

Although registration is not necessary to get copyright, it is necessary for a copyright lawsuit.

Do I have to register a copyright?

No. Registration is not required, it is optional.

“…registration is not a condition of copyright protection.”
U.S. Copyright Office, Circular 1

“No publication or registration or other action in the Copyright Office is required to secure copyright. There are, however, certain definite advantages to registration.”
U.S. Copyright Office, Circular 1

Then why register? What are the benefits of registration?

Only registration before infringement, or within three months of publishing, allows you to win statutory damages and attorney’s fees in a court case.

“In general, copyright registration is a legal formality intended to make a public record of the basic facts of a particular copyright. … copyright law provides several inducements or advantages to encourage copyright owners to make registration. Among these advantages are the following:

  • Registration establishes a public record of the copyright claim.
  • Before an infringement suit may be filed in court, registration is necessary for works of U.S. origin.
  • If made before or within five years of publication, registration will establish prima facie evidence in court of the validity of the copyright and of the facts stated in the certificate.
  • If registration is made within three months after publication of the work or prior to an infringement of the work, statutory damages and attorney’s fees will be available to the copyright owner in court actions. Otherwise, only an award of actual damages and profits is available to the copyright owner.
  • Registration allows the owner of the copyright to record the registration with the U.S. Customs Service for protection against the importation of infringing copies.

U.S. Copyright Office, Circular 1

Can I just wait for an infringement before registering?

“… certain remedies, such as statutory damages and attorney’s fees, are available only for acts of infringement that occurred after the effective date of registration.”
U.S. Copyright Office, Circular 1

When is copyright registration required?

“Before an infringement suit may be filed in court, registration is necessary for works of U.S. origin.”
U.S. Copyright Office, Circular 1

“If registration is made within three months after publication of the work or prior to an infringement of the work, statutory damages and attorney’s fees will be available to the copyright owner in court actions. Otherwise, only an award of actual damages and profits is available to the copyright owner.”
U.S. Copyright Office, Circular 1

Do my photos have to be good to register them?

“The registrability of such a work is not affected by the intention of the author as to the use of the work or the number of copies reproduced.”
U.S. Code, Title 37, Section 202.10

Do I have to publish my photos before registering?

“Publication is no longer the key to obtaining federal copyright as it was under the Copyright Act of 1909. However, publication remains important to copyright owners.”
U.S. Copyright Office, Circular 1

What do I get when I register my copyright?

“With either online or paper applications, you can expect:

  • a letter, telephone call or email from a Copyright Office staff member if further information is needed or
  • a certificate of registration indicating that the work has been registered, or if the application cannot be accepted, a letter explaining why it has been rejected

U.S. Copyright Office, Circular 1

Do I have to wait for the registration certificate before publishing?

“You do not have to receive your certificate before you publish or produce your work…”
U.S. Copyright Office, Circular 1

Can I get international copyright?

“There is no such thing as an “international copyright” that will automatically protect an author’s writings throughout the entire world. Protection against unauthorized use in a particular country depends, basically, on the national laws of that country. However, most countries do offer protection to foreign works under certain conditions, and these conditions have been greatly simplified by international copyright treaties and conventions.”
U.S. Copyright Office, Circular 1

What if my photo was published in a magazine or other copyrighted work?

“If you have written an article, column, or short story that has been published in a magazine, newspaper, or other periodical, you may make a separate registration for your work. This kind of work is called a ‘contribution to a collective work.’”
U.S. Copyright Office, FL-104, Reviewed 01/2011

Is the date of registration when I publish, when I submit, or when the certificate is issued?

Your registration date is when your submittal is received at the Copyright Office.

“When the Copyright Office issues a registration certificate, it assigns as the effective date of registration the date it received all required elements — an application, a nonrefundable filing fee, and a nonreturnable deposit — in acceptable form, regardless of how long it took to process the application and mail the certificate.”
U.S. Copyright Office, Circular 1

“The effective date of a copyright registration is the day on which an application, deposit, and fee, which are later determined by the Register of Copyrights or by a court of competent jurisdiction to be acceptable for registration, have all been received in the Copyright Office.’
U.S.C. Title 17 §410(d)

It took me years to create something; what date should I use?

“If a work is prepared over a period of time, the part of the work that is fixed on a particular date constitutes the created work as of that date.”
U.S. Copyright Office, Circular 1

Does online equal publication?

“The definition of publication in U.S. copyright law does not specifically address online transmission. The Copyright Office therefore asks applicants, who know the facts surrounding distribution of their works, to determine whether works are published.”
U.S. Copyright Office, FL-107

What do I get?

“When … [the] legal and formal requirements of this title have been met, the Register shall register the claim and issue to the applicant a certificate of registration under the seal of the Copyright Office.’
U.S. Code, Title 17 §410(a)

What is the benefit of a certificate?

“In any judicial proceedings the certificate of a registration made before or within five years after first publication of the work shall constitute prima facie evidence of the validity of the copyright and of the facts stated in the certificate.”
17 USC §410

How do I register my copyright?

“Application for registration. — Not later than 3 months after the first publication of a work preregistered under this subsection, the applicant shall submit to the Copyright Office —

  • (A) an application for registration of the work;
  • (B) a deposit; and
  • (C) the applicable fee.

U.S.C. Title 17 §408(f)(3)

What is a “deposit”?

“…the owner of copyright or of the exclusive right of publication in a work published in the United States shall deposit, within three months after the date of such publication … two complete copies of the best edition … The required copies … shall be deposited in the Copyright Office…’
U.S.C. Title 17 §407(a)

Publication is defined as the “distribution of copies … of a work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership or by rental, lease, or lending.”

See copyright registration deposit.

Can I register many photos at once?

“A group of published photographs can be registered on a single form with a single fee if (a) all the photographs are by the same photographer …; (b) all the photographs are published in the same calendar year; and (c) all the photographs have the same copyright claimant.”
U.S. Copyright Office, FL-107

Can I register online?


“You can apply to register your copyright in one of two ways: Online application [and] … paper application.”
U.S. Copyright Office, Circular 1

“Online registration … is the preferred way to register basic claims… ”
U.S. Copyright Office, Circular 1

Link to copyright registration online.

1. Register Copyright

PRO:If trouble occurs, you can threaten to take the case to court for statutory damages of up to $150,000 per instance of willful infringement.
CON:Costs some time and money, and doesn’t physically stop copying.

By Andrew Hudson Published: May 25, 2012 Updated: May 5, 2016

File a form online with the Copyright Office, upload your work and pay a fee. You can register any number of photos in one submittal for one fee.

Why register?
Not registeredonly get actual, not statutory damages.
Registeredcan get statutory damages up to $150,000 for a willful infringing use and legal fees.


  • Register as many images as you want with one application and for one fixed fee.
  • Zip images, fill out eCO form, upload zip file of your images, pay $35.
  • Can’t mix unpublished and published, so separate into two applications.


2. Copyright Notice

PRO:Traditional, professional and legally wise.
CON:Doesn’t physically stop copying.

Photos are often shown with a credit notice such as © 2012 Joe Bloggs. This is not required under copyright law, but it does assert your protection and states your ownership to viewers.

In a lawsuit, a display of the copyright notice helps establish your case and turn infringement from innocent to willful, which increases the potential monetary damages. Innocent can be $200 but willful is up to $150,000. Most photographers and magazines include copyright information.

Making the © symbol

Format:  Copyright  Year  Name

The format is not legally defined, any similar approach will do. The year is the year of first publication. The name is that of the person who owns the copyright, which is usually the photographer (unless a full-time employee).

The copyright notice is one type of Copyright Management Information (CMI) which is given legal protection under Section 1202 of the DMCA which is part of the U.S. Copyright Act.

Drawbacks: Since this text is part of the web page and is not attached to the photo itself, it is lost when someone right-clicks a copy. So also included the notice within the image file, such as in the metadata.

For more information, see U.S. Copyright Office Circular 3: Copyright Notice (PDF).

How to add the copyright notice to a webpage

The simplest way is to place a paragraph tag after the image tag. For example:

<img src="photograph.jpg" alt="Image copyright 2012 Joe Bloggs" />
<p>Photo &copy; 2012 Joe Bloggs</p>

&copy; is an HTML entity name which displays the copyright symbol ©. Adding “Photo” before the © symbol helps identify the copyright with the photograph, as opposed to the text or the entire HTML page.

You can also add the information to the <img> tag directly using the alt and title attributes.

Alt is a required attribute for the <img> tag which specifies an alternate text for an image. Google Images uses this information to categorize and index your online photos.

Title is an optional standard attribute which specifies extra information about the element. The text in the title attribute may be displayed in the browser when the cursor hovers over the image.

<img src="photograph.jpg" alt="&copy; 2012 Joe Bloggs" title="Photo &copy; 2012 Joe Bloggs. Please enjoy but don’t steal my images." />
<p>&copy; 2012 Joe Bloggs</p>

Photo © 2012 Joe Bloggs

Copyright Management Information (CMI)

CMI is “any … [identifying] information conveyed in connection” with copyrighted works. This includes a copyright notice, and credit lines. It can be illegal for someone to remove or falsify CMI to hide or aid infringement.

“[Copyright Management Information (CMI) is] identifying information about the work, the author, the copyright owner, and in certain cases, the performer, writer or director of the work, as well as the terms and conditions for use of the work, and such other information as the Register of Copyrights may prescribe by regulation.”
U.S. Copyright Act, Title 17 means any of the following information conveyed in connection 1202, as amended by DMCA (1998).

Examples of CMI

CMI could be anything “conveyed in connection with copies” that identifies the origin and licensing terms of a work. For example:

  • a copyright notice
  • a serial number
  • a Creative Commons License
  • licensing metadata
  • “credit lines” and “attributions … next to the images” (see Agence France Presse v. Morel, 2011).
  • the photographer’s name in a “printed gutter credit” — Murphy v. Millennium, 2011

[CMI is] extremely broad, with no restriction on the context in which such information must be used.”
— — Murphy v. Millennium Radio Group LLC, 2011 WL 2315128 (3d Cir. June 14, 2011).

Definition of CMI

CMI was introduced in the Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998 that amended and is contained within the U.S. Copyright Act which forms Title 17 of the U.S. Code.

As used in this section, the term ‘copyright management information’ means any of the following information conveyed in connection with copies of a work or displays of a work, including in form (such as in the metadata of your photo file):

(1) The title and other information identifying the work, including the information set forth on a notice of copyright.

(2) The name of, and other identifying information about, the author of a work or

(3) The name of, and other identifying information about, the copyright owner of the work, including the information set forth in a notice of copyright.

17 U.S.C. §1202(c)

Removing or altering CMI

Fines for illegal CMI removal or alteration range from $2,500 to $25,000, plus attorneys’ fees and damages. The copyright of a photograph need not be registered in advance to recover damages under this statute.

No person shall, without the authority of the copyright owner or the law —

(1) intentionally remove or alter any copyright management information,

(2) distribute or import for distribution copyright management information knowing that the copyright management information has been removed or altered without authority of the copyright owner or the law,

17 U.S.C. §1202(b)

© notice

“Before a plaintiff may bring a civil action for copyright infringement, he must register the copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office.”
Rogers v. BBB Houston, 2011

“[E]ven though photographers have copyright protection from the moment they shoot — the protection is often useless if the image was not registered prior to the infringement (or within three months of its first publication).”
Stephen Filler, a New York-based attorney

“Registration is required to recover attorney’s fees and statutory damages — which is often the stick that causes infringers to pay without litigation.”
Stephen Filler, a New York-based attorney

“Without registration, actual damages or profit must be proven. For photographs, actual damages is often the fair market value of a license of the image; and profits, especially if the work was used in advertising, are difficult to prove.”
Stephen Filler, a New York-based attorney

“The author, claimant, or owner can be a minor, even though State law may regulate or control business dealings involving minors. The Copyright Office will generally accept an application submitted either by a minor or by the minor’s parents or guardian, if it is otherwise in order.”
U.S. Copyright Office, Compendium II of Copyright Office Practices, §110.01

“The Copyright Act makes clear that copyright exists in all works of authorship regardless of whether the copyright for such work is registered.”
Morgan v White Rock Distilleries, 2002

“[C]opyright registration is a jurisdictional prerequisite to the right of the holder to enforce the copyright in federal court.”
Morgan v White Rock Distilleries, 2002

“[R]egistration is not a condition of copyright protection.”
17 USC § 408(a)

“[N]o action for infringement of the copyright in any work shall be instituted until registration of the copyright claim has been made.”
17 USC § 411

Published (Publication)

“Publication: the distribution of copies or phonorecords of a work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending.”
17 U.S.C. § 101

“[The definition of ‘publication’ under copyright law] does not specifically address online transmission.”
U.S. Copyright Office, Circular 66

“Neither the Copyright Act nor its implementing regulations explain the … definition [of ‘published’] to internet works.”
Rogers v. BBB Houston, 2011

Does posting online=“published”? v. Cangemi, 2002
Sleep Science v. Lieberman, 2010
Kernal v. Mosley, 2011
Waller v. Nexstar, 2012
NO:Einhorn v. Mergatroyd, 2006
McLaren v. Chico’s, 2010
Rogers v. BBB Houston, 2011
Source: Rogers v. BBB Houston, 2011


“[The] act of posting the pictures to [a] website and making them accessible to others for distribution is considered a publication.”
Waller v. Nexstar, 2011


“[T]he court cannot hold, as a matter of law, that the webpages were published unless public distribution occurred.”
Rogers v. BBB Houston, 2011

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Reply by Mikayla

October 29, 2020

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Reply by Anna Studebaker

January 10, 2017

I work with people who own the intellectual rights of the work of a photographer who has passed. They want to register all of the images with the copyright office. How does this work?

Thank you.

Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

January 10, 2017

The first question is: did the photographer actually own the copyrights? Images take before 1978 have a complex ownership situation. Also, copyright of commissioned images may belong to the client/employer. To register copyright ownership of the images, you will probably need proof of original copyright (such as registration by the photographer), and proof of “transfer” (inheritance/purchase) of copyright to your group. A lawyer may help in this process.

If the photographer owned the copyrights, and your group inherited the photographer’s property, then your group would automatically own the copyrights.

Optionally, you can register the copyrights. This is beneficial prior to legal cases. You can register U.S. copyrights at This service is set up for photographers (“authors”); I don’t know how it works for inheritors but it may need proof of copyright by the photographer and proof of “transfer” (inheritance) of copyright, as mentioned above.

I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice.

Good luck!


Reply by Thsyanthan

January 17, 2013

I want to copyright my photpo

Reply by Dins

June 17, 2012

How much copyright cost for 100 photoes of paintings (orignal and reproduction) and once we add copyright people still can click on photo and copy and save them except that they see the notice or when we copyright they can not click copy and save as that option is blocked?

Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

June 27, 2012

Hi Dins. Copyright is free, and automatic. You can register that copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office for, I think, $35, which can cover a group of photos. People can still click on and save a photo. To prevent that, see this link.

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