License And Registration (of your Copyright), Please

Okay, I know the blog rules say you’re supposed to wait X amount of time to publish another post, but this one can’t wait; it’s just that important.  If you’ve accepted that you’re legally insane and still want to pursue this photography thing on a serious basis, before you register your company, before you register your domain, before you do any of that, you must do this first:

REGISTER YOUR PICTURES.  ALL OF THEM!!

Did I stress that enough?  I don’t care what your excuse is for not doing it – it’s a crappy one and I’m not buying it, so don’t even try to sell it.  There are thirty countries in the world that have not signed the Berne Convention (which gives the same protection to your work), and while a few of these are safe and happy joints, like Papua New Guinea, the majority of non-signers are countries like Iran, Iraq, Somalia, and Ethiopia who have much bigger things to worry about than having their photos stolen.  All of North and South America, all of Europe, almost all of Asia, almost all of Oceania, and most of Africa are part of the Berne convention.  So no excuses.

So here’s what you do, or here’s what I did, anyway.  First, I watched this video, because, like too many other photographers, I needed a kick in the ass to get moving.  Lawyers are good for that.  Note: it’s almost two hours long, so you may want to add it to your “watch later” list and go through it in pieces, as time permits.

Despite the remarks against Ed Greenberg in the Youtube comments, I thought he was good.  Was he an intimidating, know-it-all alpha male?  Of course!  He’s a lawyer, and probably a good one, because of it.  The difference between him and what most photographers are used to (and he even mentions it a number of times) is that most photographers are used to trying to play nice and friendly.  He’s a lawyer – he deals with businessmen who are out for money, not friends.  If they can screw over some no-name photographer and make money at it, why not?  That’s why you need to register your copyrights!!

Yes, you technically have copyright the minute you press the shutter release button, but we all know how much courts love seeing paperwork.  So get some.

Once you’ve watched the video and seen the light, here’s what you need to do:

  1. Find all of your pictures that you want to register.  Categorize them.  I categorized them by year.
  2. Open all of those images in Photoshop or whatever you’re using, and shrink them down.  The Copyright office doesn’t want your 5′ x 8′ print.  I shrunk mine to nice little 700 x 500 pixel jpegs.  They’re still large enough to see the image, but not large enough to make for slow transfers or piss off the nice people at the copyright office who can always deny my application.
  3. Use a bulk renaming program, and rename your images to something more intuitive for each image.  The copyright office already has more than enough IMG_0003.jpg’s as it is, and again, you don’t want to annoy the people who can deny your application.
  4. Go to http://www.copyright.gov/ and click on the eCO login.  Follow it through and set yourself up with an account.
  5. Go through the whole copyright registration process.  At the end, when you get to the review stage, I suggest that you save it as a template.  You can always continue from there, but it’ll save you time in the future!
    1. Note: Don’t worry about the “acceptable file formats” listed at the beginning of the registration.  You WILL be able to upload normal image files (tiff, jpeg, bmp, etc.) later on.
  6. You can pay online via electronic cheque transfer or credit card.
  7. Once that’s done, it lets you print the receipt and sends you to the upload section.  You upload each file individually, and next to the file, you either add a title or a description of the image.  I prefer to use a description, as some of the images I have registered haven’t been edited or posted to my site yet, so they probably don’t have a formal name.
    1. Note: You only get 60 minutes of upload time, as per the site.  However, based on the size of images I used, I managed to upload 60 images in just over a minute on a bad wireless connection.  Another reason to cut down the size of your images before uploading!
  8. After that, you’ll get an email from them saying “here’s the list of images you submitted…” and a notice saying that in 2-4 weeks, a nice, shiny certificate of registration will arrive at your door.
  9. In said 2-4 weeks, a certificate shows up at your door and you feel all warm and gushy inside.  Then you go on Google Images and wander around town, looking for people who’ve stolen your image, hoping you can sue the pants off them and make tons of money!

I’ll admit, I tried going through the Canadian site first (as I am Canadian), but it wasn’t as intuitive or helpful as the US site, so although I’m going to contact the Canadian side and see what the story is, unless I missed something obvious, I’ll probably stick with the US copyright site. (they put me through the registration, they took my money, and then said “have a nice day.”  No hint as to where the upload was.  Yep, definitely a government site.)

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