Q&A – Registering Photographs Taken By Others

Q. My dad was a photographer but has passed away. Can I copyright his photos even though I did not take the pictures?

A. You may register (remember, photographs already have copyright protection when they were taken) copyrights that you own, even if you didn’t take the photos (and they haven’t been previously registered). Copyrights are property of an estate and usually pass to heirs by operation of will or by probate. Check with your attorney to determine how the copyrights were distributed for the estate. Copyrights often are not specifically mentioned in a will and thus may pass as the residual assets of the estate.

As the owner of the copyrights, you register the photographs using Form VA from the US Copyright Office. In Space 2, put the photographer’s name and include the photographer’s dates of birth and death. In Space 4, you record your name as the claimant. Be sure to add: “a brief statement of how the claimant obtained ownership of the copyright.” Examples include: “By written contract”; “Transfer of all rights by author”; “Assignment”; “By will.” Do not attach transfer documents (such as the will).

Since copyrights now last for the life of the photographer plus 75 years, it’s important to protect these assets by registering them.

Take my advice; get professional help.
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