What Is Copyright
Copyright applies to most artistic works, such as paintings, murals, statues, music, and photography. As a photographer, it gives you the exclusive right to make and sell copies of the photo and to create derivative works (other art based on the photo, such as a painting of the photo) to display the photo in public and to license usage for money to other people. In a sense, copyright doesn’t give you anything, it really just affects other people, saying what they can’t do, thus it’s known as a “negative right.”
About That © Symbol
The © symbol, or any other marking, is not required. It was required in the U.S. before 1989, but adoption of the Berne Convention removed this requirement, as copyright is now automatic. However, it is still optionally used as means of identifying the copyright owner, along with the date of creation. You don’t have to include the © with your photo, but the addition of “© 2010 John Doe” tells everyone that John Doe hereby declares copyright ownership of this photo since 2010.
Similarly the phrase “All rights reserved” is not required. It was once required to assert international rights but was made redundant by the Berne Convention.
Copyright Is Automatic
Thanks to the Berne Convention copyright is automatic. You don’t need to submit a form, and you don’t have to use that “©” symbol or a watermark — those are just customary ways of identifying the copyright owner.
At the moment of creation, when the artwork is “fixed” in some tangible form, copyright applies automatically. For a photographer, when you press the shutter release you are making a photo and gaining copyright to that photo at the same time. You don’t have to declare copyright or file any paperwork. It is yours to keep until you explicitly give it away or you die (copyright expires after you, the duration in the U.S. is the author’s lifetime plus 70 years).
There is an advantage to registering your copyright. If a dispute arises, you can get punitive damages (in addition to compensatory damages) if a form was filed before infringement. By the way, putting photos on the Internet may make them publicly available but does not (in the legal sense) put them in the public domain.
Your copyright is valid in all countries that adhere to the Berne Convention.
Copyright A Photo With The U.S. Copyright Office
Get a form from here: https://www.copyright.gov/forms/ Complete, attach a copy of your photo, and mail to U.S. Copyright Office in Washington, D.C.
About Mailing A Photo To Yourself VS Registering Your Copyright
The practice of sending a copy of your own work to yourself is sometimes called a “poor man’s copyright” (PMC). There is no provision in the copyright law regarding any such type of protection, and it is not a substitute for registration.” Poor man’s copyright (PMC) may help you prove authorship but there are several issues: it is not ironclad, it is not supported by statutory law, there are other ways of showing authorship and most copyright court cases do not focus on authorship, they are often more about fair use. So mailing a copy is unlikely to be useful in court.
What is useful in court is registering your copyright. Under U.S. law, registration gives you several additional benefits: your copyright becomes a public record, you get a certificate of registration, your copyright is prima facie evidence in court and if you win a case you can claim statutory damages and attorney’s fees.
You can register all your photos at once, online here: https://www.copyright.gov/registration/ … index.html The cost is $55 (at the time of this writing January 2017) for an unlimited number of photos (single author, same claimant, file sizes under 500MB). So register your photos and you will get the maximum protection.
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