Log onto any photography forum, and you'll regularly see people complaining about their images being stolen and asking what they can do about it. Hardly any of them have registered their work with the U.S. Copyright Office. This means that the best they can do is to try to recover actual damages, which in most cases, is a negligible amount. Once your image is registered, however, you can sue for up to $150,000 per infraction, plus attorney's fees. In addition, if you've attached a watermark or copyright notice to your image, and the violator has intentionally removed it, you can sue for up to $25,000, plus attorney's fees, for each infraction.

So ask yourself, is it worth spending only $55 to protect all the images you've published within a given year?

A couple of years ago, I published a step by step guide to this process on Medium. Since then, the US Copyright Office, or ECO for short, has modified some of its procedures, so I thought it would be useful to capture every step as I went through it.

The starting point is here:  http://copyright.gov/eco/

This assumes you have already created an account with the ECO. If you haven't, now is the time to do it.

This assumes you have already created an account with the ECO. If you haven't, now is the time to do it.

Once you log in, click on Register a New Claim.

Once you log in, click on Register a New Claim.

In general, you're going to be registering a bunch of images at once, e.g., all the images you published in 2015.

In general, you're going to be registering a bunch of images at once, e.g., all the images you published in 2015.


Just click on the New button. IMPORTANT!  If there are any blank lines in the list of titles, click on the trash can icon on the far right of the blank line. If you don't see the "Continue" button after you enter the title, this is the most likely reason.

Just click on the New button.

IMPORTANT!  If there are any blank lines in the list of titles, click on the trash can icon on the far right of the blank line. If you don't see the "Continue" button after you enter the title, this is the most likely reason.

In the first box, select this from the drop-down list. In the second, enter an appropriate title for the works as a whole.

In the first box, select this from the drop-down list. In the second, enter an appropriate title for the works as a whole.

Note that the works being registered must all fall into the same category: they must all be either published or unpublished, and they must all be within the same calendar year. Note that you no longer have to worry about the original publication date for each image individually.

Note that the works being registered must all fall into the same category: they must all be either published or unpublished, and they must all be within the same calendar year. Note that you no longer have to worry about the original publication date for each image individually.

At various points in this process, you'll see the "Add Me" button. This will automatically fill in your name, address, etc. In general, you will be putting all this information in your own name, unless you want to assign the copyright to someone else.

At various points in this process, you'll see the "Add Me" button. This will automatically fill in your name, address, etc. In general, you will be putting all this information in your own name, unless you want to assign the copyright to someone else.

Note that as you complete each section, a checkmark will appear on the left if the section has been correctly completed.

Note that as you complete each section, a checkmark will appear on the left if the section has been correctly completed.

  NOTE:  If you don't have time to finish the application in one sitting, you can click on the "Save for Later" button whenever you see it.  

 

NOTE:  If you don't have time to finish the application in one sitting, you can click on the "Save for Later" button whenever you see it.

 

Unless you want to pay extra fees, just click on the "Continue" button here.

Unless you want to pay extra fees, just click on the "Continue" button here.

  Once you have reviewed your application, scroll through the page until you see the "Add to Cart" button.

 

Once you have reviewed your application, scroll through the page until you see the "Add to Cart" button.

  As of this writing, the cost for the application is only $55. And remember, you can include thousands of images in a single application!

 

As of this writing, the cost for the application is only $55. And remember, you can include thousands of images in a single application!

Don't worry -- once you complete the payment process, you'll be taken back to the ECO.

Don't worry -- once you complete the payment process, you'll be taken back to the ECO.

  Do the final review and click on Continue. You can use credit cards or checking accounts to process the payment.

 

Do the final review and click on Continue. You can use credit cards or checking accounts to process the payment.

  Now it's time to upload the images. Here's what I do. I have a folder for each year, where I keep copies of each image, with a width of 300 pixels. I use the Photoshop Export/Save to Web command, at 65%, to store each image in the folder. As you can see, this creates a pretty small file size that will upload very quickly. BEFORE you upload, make sure your file names are correct. Don't worry about Capitalization; the upload process will convert everything to lower case. Also, make sure you don't have punctuation in the file names. Only underscores or hyphens are allowed. As you can see, I use underscores between each word of the file name, and these name correspond to the title names on my website. If you file sizes are this small, you don't have to create a zip or pdf file for the images. I selected about 130 images to upload, and the entire process took about 2 minutes.

 

Now it's time to upload the images. Here's what I do. I have a folder for each year, where I keep copies of each image, with a width of 300 pixels. I use the Photoshop Export/Save to Web command, at 65%, to store each image in the folder. As you can see, this creates a pretty small file size that will upload very quickly.

BEFORE you upload, make sure your file names are correct. Don't worry about Capitalization; the upload process will convert everything to lower case. Also, make sure you don't have punctuation in the file names. Only underscores or hyphens are allowed. As you can see, I use underscores between each word of the file name, and these name correspond to the title names on my website.

If you file sizes are this small, you don't have to create a zip or pdf file for the images. I selected about 130 images to upload, and the entire process took about 2 minutes.

  Scroll to the middle of the list, and you'll the green button to complete your application.

 

Scroll to the middle of the list, and you'll the green button to complete your application.

  YOU'RE DONE! Look in your email for an automatic receipt from the ECO.

 

YOU'RE DONE!

Look in your email for an automatic receipt from the ECO.

Up to 8 months later (yes, it really can take that long, since the Copyright Office processes over 600,000 applications per year), you will receive your official certificate. But don't worry: the copyright date is considered to be the day you fulfilled all the requirement of the application.