Photography in the Digital Age Why Registering Your Copyrights is Essential to Your Business

Originally published January 11, 2017 in Rangefinder Magazine

Taking a great photo is only one aspect of what it takes to be commercially successful as a photographer. Also required is an ability to leverage that work in the marketplace.  With the viral reach and ease of sharing your images in the digital age, it has become easier for a would-be infringer to use and profit from your images online and elsewhere without permission. Now more than ever, photographers must learn how to promote their work, while protecting it from infringement.        


Photographers legally own an image the moment they click the shutter button and take the picture. That ownership is called a copyright. Most photographers know they automatically own and have rights to their work. What is less known is that a copyright is unenforceable in a court of law, unless it is registered with the United States Copyright Office. Registration prior to infringement empowers photographers to assert their rights in court and efficiently stop the unauthorized reproduction, display, or sale of images.  


Because every image taken is unique in its own way, it is impossible to predict which may allure a potential infringer, and which will not. Securing your legal rights well before infringement has occurred, rather than scrambling to secure them after, is beneficial to you in many ways. 

Photographers who register their work before infringement occurs are immediately prepared to enforce their rights, both in negotiation discussions and – if necessary – in court. No time is later wasted on the registration process, which can take up to 3 to 6 months, depending on the court. 

If a photographer files a lawsuit and wins, then registration of an image prior to infringement automatically grants that photographer certain benefits that are not otherwise available. The benefits include: payment of an award in a sum no less than $200 to $30,000 per infringement; payment of all attorney’s fees; and, where there is proof that an infringer knew that the copyright was registered at the time of infringement, then the photographer is entitled to enhanced damages for “willful infringement” of up to $150,000. For all these reasons, early registration means an infringer is more likely to settle a dispute quickly, without the need of a lawsuit. But all of these advantages and rights are simply lost if you register the image after the date of infringement. 

Waiting for infringement to register, therefore, not only compromises the leverage you would otherwise have against an infringer, but also means that the time, expense, and difficulty of filing a lawsuit to enforce your rights may not be financially worthwhile.  In short, registering your images soon after you create them gives you the upperhand when it comes to stopping infringement and seeking compensation.         


Registering photographs with the U.S. Copyright Office should become a regular part of a photographer’s business practice. When you finalize your images, and before sharing them with your clients or the public, register them with the U.S. Copyright Office. For a minimal fee, the U.S. Copyright Office allows batch registration of up to 750 published images per copyright application, and an unlimited number of unpublished images.       

To learn more about the copyright registration process, and the difference between published and unpublished images, contact Arce Stark Law LLC. We offer a low-cost streamlined copyright registration service.


Photographers today face a lot of pressure to distribute their work quickly and as widely as possible, online and through other mediums. Digital access to electronic images opens photographers to infringement of their work. A copyright offers no protection against infringement, until it is registered. It is time photographers empower themselves against infringement, and prompt copyright registration can be one useful tool to that end.