Q&A – Copyright Registration Issues

Q. If I register an image as unpublished now, do I need to re-register it after I publish it?

A. Nope!  In fact, you should register a copyright only once.  Registering unpublished photographs is the easiest and cheapest way to register your copyrights. You can apply to register a single unpublished photograph or an unpublished collection of photographs with one application and filing fee using eCO, Form CO, or paper Form VA. For collections of unpublished photographs:

  • the photographs must be neatly assembled;
  • a collection title must be provided;
  • the same party must be the copyright claimant for all the photos; and
  • one author (photographer) must have either created or contributed to all the photos.

Q. I sell images on my website.  Does this count as publication?

A. Under copyright law, publication is the distribution of copies of a work—in this case, a photograph—to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership or by rental, lease, or lending. Offering to distribute copies to a group of people for purposes of further distribution or public display also constitutes publication. However, a public display of a photograph does not in itself constitute publication.

The definition of publication in the U.S. copyright law does not specifically address online transmission. The Copyright Office therefore asks applicants, who know the facts surrounding distribution of their works, to determine whether works are published. But in the case of offering to sell photos on your website likely would be considered to be published.

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