Photo Attorney

Dec 28, 2005

Customs Issues When Traveling Abroad

Photographers often carry a lot of expensive gear when traveling abroad. When returning to the United States, if the border agent believes that you bought the equipment while out of the country, you will have to pay customs duties on those items. These duties can be significant because of the value of the gear. The trick is to document your equipment before you leave.

Prior to your departure, prepare a "Certificate of Registration" form (CBP Form 4457) for your personal articles, including cameras and laptops. The certificate is your proof of ownership and will exempt your property from customs duties. The form may be printed here:

Before you leave the country, take your equipment and the completed form to your local U.S. Customs and Border Protection ("CBP") office. You may locate an office convenient to you at Some airports have onsite offices, but they may be past security so that you cannot verify any equipment that you check. A CBP officer will compare your items with those listed on the form, will sign the form, and will return it to you. Keep it with you when re-entering the United States to avoid large customs duties on equipment that you already owned. Note that any repairs performed on the equipment while out of the country are subject to customs duties. Keep the form for future trips, as well, because it is valid for the registered articles as long as the form is legible.

Before you take that next photography trip abroad, do some important preventive work for that dreaded customs inspection on the trip home.

Take my advice; get professional help.

Dec 21, 2005

Tax Deductions for Your Photography

Regardless of whether your photography is a business or a hobby, you can use it to make a difference in your tax obligation. Specifically, if you are running a photography business, even part-time, the costs to run it can offset your income - not just the income from your photography business but from your day job, as well. If your photography is a hobby, then the costs to support it can be deducted from the income from your photography.

The key is to keep good records, using the tax laws to your advantage. Following are 10 tips for record keeping:

1. Record all income that you receive from your photography - every penny, every year. The IRS doesn't care if you miss a deduction or two, but it gets upset if you fail to report income.

2. Track your automobile expenses. You have two options here: you either can track the mileage you travel for photography purposes to deduct the government rate per mile (currently $0.485); or you can calculate what it costs to operate your vehicle for the year and apply the percentage that you use your automobile for photography to determine your auto expense. For either method, record the starting mileage for your vehicle each year.

3. The IRS publishes a per diem rate for standard expenses when on the road. Keep up with travel days for your photography if you choose that method, or track your actual "ordinary and necessary" travel expenses to deduct them.

4. If you operate your photography business out of your home, you may deduct a percentage of your housing costs (mortgage, water, electricity, insurance, etc.) based on the proportion of the house that is used solely for photography. You may not deduct the expenses for both an office at home and elsewhere, such as a studio.

5. You may deduct the cost of a phone line for your business as long as you also have a personal line. You also may deduct the cost of long distance calls made for your photography, so keep your phone records.

6. You may deduct the cost of photography seminars and workshops, so track those expenses.

7. You may allocate a proportion of your internet, website and computer expenses that support your photography business. Be sure to apportion an appropriate amount for your personal use, where applicable.

8. Keep receipts for all of your photography expenses, including equipment, supplies and materials. Checks and credit card statements are helpful as proof of your costs, but they are not the preferred documentation.

9. Equipment that lasts more than one year (cameras, furniture, etc.) must be depreciated over the expected life of the item, meaning that you deduct only a portion of its cost each year. Maintain a spreadsheet with the date of purchase and the depreciation schedule so that you will know the basis of the equipment if you sell it before the end of the five years. Be sure to check into the "section 179 deduction" that allows you to deduct the cost (up to a certain amount) of depreciable property in the year you buy it.

10. You may deduct your accountant and attorney fees (including fees for registering your copyrights) that support your photography business activities, so keep copies of invoices from those professionals.

Your New Year's resolutions should include keeping accurate records of your photography income and expenses to make the most of your photography.

Take my advice, get professional help.

Dec 14, 2005

Timing Is Everything When It Comes To Registering Your Copyrights

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you understand the value of registering the copyrights to your photographs. The timing of when you register them is important, too!

When your photograph is infringed, you may make a claim for the actual profits earned by the infringer that are the direct result of the infringement. These can be difficult to prove but can be significant depending on the circumstance. One photographer recently settled for almost $300K for the profits earned by the infringer.

But if your timing for registration is good, you may elect to seek statutory damages instead of actual profits from the infringer. Statutory fees range from $750 to $30,000 per infringement [the range for the statutory fees is what the court believes is necessary to deter the infringer from future infringements], and up to $150,000 with attorney's fees if the infringement was willful or intentional. Usually, statutory fees amount to much more than actual profits and you don’t have to prove them.

What is "good" timing for registration? At a minimum, it is anytime before the infringement. Your registration is effective the day it is received by the US Copyright Office, so send your registration via a documented delivery method.

You also are eligible for statutory fees as long as you register your copyright within three months of publishing it. If your photo is infringed even one day after it is published but your registration reaches the US Copyright Office 3-months-minus-one-day later, you are covered. Basically, the three months is a grace period for us to get our ducks in a row.

Finally, if your photograph is infringed, you have not registered it, and it is more than three months since you published it, register it as soon as you can for two reasons. First, you must register your photo to file suit in court. Second, if one infringer found it to be worth stealing, another likely will, too!

Take my advice, get professional help.

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Dec 8, 2005

Registering Your Website

Many photographers design websites to share their images. If the design of your website meets a standard of originality, it is subject to copyright protection just as your photographs are. The bonus is that when you register your website, you also can register your photos and text on your website on one form and with one fee to protect all of your work!

Registering your website covers the copyrightable content of the website as identified in your registration. You should specifically exclude any material that has been previously registered or published, or is in the public domain. For new published works, limit your registration to the content of your work that is published on the date given on the application.

To register, use the form that corresponds to the type of authorship being registered, for example:

Form TX-literary material, including computer programs and databases

Form VA-pictorial and graphic works, including cartographic material

Form PA-audiovisual material, including any sounds, music, or lyrics

If the work contains more than one type of authorship, use the form that corresponds to the predominant material. For registering computer programs with text and photos, Form TX is likely the best form. There, Section 5 TX asks for:

Type of Authorship in This Work
_ Text (includes fiction, nonfiction, poetry, computer programs, etc.)
_ Illustrations
_ Photographs
_ Compilation of terms or data

You may check one, more, or all boxes on the same form. More information is available here: US Copyright Office Circular #66 .

You'll need to register again your website after posting new pics/text or making changes to the website that constitute original work. Use a new application and pay a separate filing fee for each subsequent registration.

Protecting your work as a photographer often goes beyond the pictures you take. Do what is necessary to protect all of it.

Take my advice; get professional help.

Dec 1, 2005

Now Available - "Captivating Wildlife" Photo Book

Need a gift idea for an animal lover or want to splurge on yourself? The book, Captivating Wildlife, which features top wildlife photography of North America, is now available. The result of a nationwide contest, professional photographers Scott Bourne and David Middleton collected photos from America’s top ten emerging wildlife photographers. The book features photographs of mountain lions, bobcats, tundra wolves, foxes and more. Additional information is available at

Over a dozen of my images are included in the photo book. I have a limited number of autographed copies for sale at the retail price of $29.95 plus tax. Be one of the first 50 people to purchase your copy and you’ll also receive an 8x10 signed copy, limited edition, of my photograph from the book, “Running Horse” (a $50 value)!
Contact me at or call 678-592-8025 to secure your copy today! Order now for the holidays!

Is Your Photography a Hobby or a Business?

Whether your photography is deemed a hobby or a business by the IRS could save you money. If you are running a photography business, you can offset your income – not just the income from your photography business but from your day job, as well - by the costs of your photography business. To be declared a business, your goal must be to make a profit. But since photography is expensive, it can take a long time to show a profit. So are you out of luck? Maybe not!

Here are 10 ways that will help to show the IRS that you are running a photography business:

• Make a profit in three out of five consecutive years, and you need to show nothing else.
• Keep accurate and updated business books and records on your activities.
• Leave your time-consuming day job or reduce your time there to devote to your business.
• Market and promote your business.
• Follow standard or develop revolutionary practices for your business.
• Make attempts to reduce the disparity of your losses compared to your income from the business.
• Hire experts such as accountants, marketing firms and lawyers, or study ways to help your business make a profit.
• Experience losses similar to others in the same business.
• Operate your business like those who do make a profit with their photography business.
• Be able to show that your business will eventually make a profit.

Other than the first item, none of these will definitively prove that your photography activities are a business. Further, the IRS may look at many other factors to determine the purpose of your photography. But following the above practices will not only help to show that your photography is a business, it will actually help your business.

Take my advice; get professional help.