Copyright 101

Navigating the universe of copyright law can be intimidating. This is what you need to know to protect your images.

Who’s the owner?

The initial owner of the copyright is the person who creates the original work.

What does copyright protect?

According to the U.S. Copyright Office, copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States to the authors of “original works of authorship,” including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works.

Does a work have to be published to be protected?

No, copyright protects both published and unpublished work.

What does ‘work for hire’ mean?

“Work for hire” (or “work made for hire” or  “WFH”) is a contract term which signifies that all work being done under the contract becomes the property of the person paying for it, not of the creator as specified by US Copyright Law. Unless both parties have signed a written agreement to the contrary, the person who paid for the work retains the copyright of the work.

Should I register my work?

You have a copyright in your work even if you do not register your copyright, but you must register your images to get the full protection of copyright law. According to Editorial Photographers, if you have a copyright infringement case and your images are registered, you are entitled to sue for attorney’s fees as well as punitive damages, not simply compensation for the usage.

How can I register work?

The registration is done with the U.S. Copyright Office at the Library of Congress. The process contains three elements:

  • A completed application form.
  • A non refundable filing fee.
  • A non returnable deposit-that is, a copy or copies of the work being registered and “deposited” with the Copyright Office.

Can copyright be transferred?

Yes. Besides transferring the copyright, you can also grant someone permission to use your images. In both cases, you should specify the terms of use with a written and signed document. You may also include a statement restricting particular uses of your work.

What is a license of agreement?

It is a grant of permission to use a copyrighted work. A sublicense grants a third party some, or all of the rights that were assigned under the original license.

I granted the rights to my images. Can I get them back?

According to Columbia Law School, you can get your rights back in a variety of circumstances:

  • Your contract may provide for a reversion of rights, by granting rights back and/or by including an out of print clause.
  • Copyright law gives you the opportunity to get most of your rights back 35 years after you entered into the agreement.

What does the conventional copyright notice include?

  • The word “copyright” or the copyright symbol © (option + ‘G’ keys on a MAC; CTRL + ALT+ C keys on a PC).
  • The year of creation or publication of the work.
  • The name of the copyright owner.
  • Example: © Juanita Ceballos, 2013.

Useful links:

Photos by Jika Gonzales, Adam Perez, Jen Dev, and Juanita Ceballos.

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