Why Should I Register My Images?

As I mentioned in my last post, this week is all about copyright here at Business Coach world headquarters. In my copyright Q&A post, I touched on the importance of copyright, but I’m gonna talk a lot more about it here.

Any meaningful discussion of copyright has to include the landscape where we live and do business. Specifically, we’re living in a culture of free where everyone expects any and all digital content to be free. Napster may have started it, but the ongoing internet boom just continues to feed the monster. Of late, Pinterest – which is the fastest growing social website ever – is based entirely on the concept of free photos distributed with or (mostly) without permission.

Now, you may forgive some old grandma in Peoria who pins a pretty photo of yours on the wall, but the same people who pin, Facebook, and Tweet whatever photos they may feel like in any given moment are the same people who have no problem doing the same when they show up for work in the morning. Just the other day I was talking with someone familiar with the inner workings of one of the biggest nightclubs in the world. The club’s marketing department swiped from the web a photo for use on their magazine ads, studio banners, website and so forth. We’re talking big money – but none for the photographer.

The reality is that we are all at some point going to get an email from a friend or client saying, “Hey isn’t that your photo being used over there?” The more visible our work, the more often we can expect to find out about unauthorized use. It’s not a question of if, but when. And when it does happen, you’re gonna be pissed off. Jumping mad. Someone stole from you and you don’t like it!

Then you’ll go on a photography forum asking about what to do and all the helpful souls will angrily tell you to take them to court and “Don’t let them get away with it!” Now as much as I agree with the sentiment, I’m sorry to say that you’ll most likely will let the perpetrators get away with it.

The reason why is because, although you own the copyright, the damages you can expect to collect are minimal if you haven’t actually registered the image prior to the infringement. It’s just not worth it to pursue the case, beyond just getting the thief to take the image down. Let’s break it down.

For images that are not registered, you’re entitled to collect:
– actual damages which generally translates to what you would have charged if they’d come to you beforehand
– profits from the use of the image. Unless they put your image on a t-shirt where you can easily discern how many units where sold and then charge accordingly, this is a tricky (and expensive) number to come up with.

For registered images, you’re entitled to collect:
– up to $150,000 in statutory damages
– attorney’s fees

It’s time for some math. Let’s assume that a corporate thief knowingly takes an image from your website and runs it for three months on their ecommerce website. Here’s what you stand to gain and to lose from attempting to collect:

No registration:
– Collect use fee of $350
– Pay attorney’s fees of $5,000 to $20,000 depending upon how far you take this. Most attorney’s will charge in the $300 – $500 range just to write a letter.

With registration:
– Collect $15,000 to $30,000 (could be more or less depending upon the circumstances)
– Pay no attorney’s fees since these will be covered by the defense or by a portion of any settlement

Without registration, there’s zero incentive for you to pursue the matter since it’s just going to cost you money with no hope of getting it back. With registration, it’s “Let’s take the SOB down” all the way!

My message here is if you want to empower yourself when the inevitable happens, you have to do it now. If you wait to register your images until after you discover a copyright violation , that’s like locking the door after the thief has already made off with your camera gear. It’s just too late.

My next post is going to cover exactly how to register you images and will include a special, can’t-pass-up-this offer to entice you to actually fill out the form and make registration a reality.

John Mireles

About johnmireles

Photographer, writer, thinker, climber, outrigger canoeist, bad guitar player and even worse singer.
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5 Responses to Why Should I Register My Images?

  1. kiralany says:

    Hi John, Great post! Question: where would I register my images? Should I register any image I put on my blog, facebook or website? What about files I give my clients?

    • johnmireles says:

      Keep on reading my copyright posts and all your questions will be answered. 🙂 I go into a lot of detail and hopefully make as easy as possible to register.


  2. kiralany says:

    Hi John! Great post and insight! Questions I have though are 1) Where do I register my images? 2) Should I be registering any images I post on my blog, facebook or website? 3) What about files my clients purchase from me? Thanks! 🙂

    • johnmireles says:

      Hi Kelly: 1) You’ll want to register your images with http://www.copyright.gov. I’m going to have more information with links to pages and forms on the blog on the next day or so. 2) Yes, you should register any image that leaves your computer and gets posted on the web. Any image that can be copied and used by someone else should be registered. If it’s not, you can’t collect damages. 3) I would register images that you deliver to clients since those will be likely be posted and thus potentially be subject to unauthorized use. You never know where a photo will end up these days.

  3. Jared Bauman says:

    Appreciate these thoughts John. You are bringing to light a subject that very few photographers know the inner workings of. Thank you for sharing – keep supporting the business community of photographers!

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