Q&A – Copyright Registration Issues – Part 3

Q.  Which version of my photo should I submit — the original photo right out of the camera or a final version after editing it, such as for exposure and white balance corrections, straightening and cropping, etc., so that the photo is essentially the same as the original, but cleaned up a bit?  If I register the original un-edited version, is my edited version (which I might display online) protected as well or would it be considered a derivative work? And likewise, if I instead submit the edited version to the copyright office, is my original unedited version, covered?

A. You may make a new copyright claim for your revised photo if the changes are substantial and creative, something more than just editorial changes or minor changes. This would qualify as a new derivative work. To be copyrightable, a derivative work must differ sufficiently from the original to be regarded as a new work or must contain a substantial amount of new material. Making minor changes or additions of little substance to a preexisting work will not qualify a work as a new version for copyright purposes. The new material must be original and copyrightable in itself.

For my photo above that I shot in August during my photo workshop in Alaska, I registered the original photo as shot (shown below) (which I choose to overexpose a bit so that the faces of the bears aren’t too dark).  But I wouldn’t also register the edited photo shown above, because the changes are editorial and minor.  If I had first registered the edited photo, I would not also register the original photo, as the edited photo covers the copyrightable elements of the original photo.  See the Copyright Office’s Circular 14Copyright Registration for Derivative Works, for further information.

Thanks to Patrick Timlin for submitting this topic.

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