I Don’t shoot Fancy Schmancy Photos… So why register? By Jack Reznicki
I hear this all the time. Photographers ask, since they own their copyright from the moment they take the photo, the very second they press the shutter, why do they need to go to the trouble and expense of registering their images? When I finish explaining, as I will again further along in this article, their next comment invariably is “Well, I don’t shoot fancy, schmancy photos so no one will probably rip my photos off.”
A lot of everyday, just OK, not fancy photos are the ones that are usually ripped off. In fact, most infringers know better than to rip off a fancy image, in that they are more likely to get sued.
When it comes to simple photos that were ripped off, a few come to mind quickly, without any long thought- Captain Sully with the plane landing in the Hudson River. Cell phone photos and videos of that incident, even blurry and tiny files, were worth huge bucks. The bear that was tranquilized and fell from a tree. Take the woman who photographed the last shuttle launch on her cell phone camera from a commercial airline. She was just flying somewhere and had a window seat and got an iconic image that became an internet sensation. I don’t believe she made any money, but the syndicators who passed it around did. There are photographers who find themselves in possession of a photograph, simple or not, that for whatever reason is worth a lot of money. A photographer in Louisiana suddenly found himself in possession of a photo of the new husband of Brittany Spears, a marriage that lasted 55 hours. That photographer collected, using a lawyer, many times from gossip magazines, news magazines, newspaper syndicators, and so on. These photos all fall under the doctrine of “Ya never know”.
So when a photographer, professional or amateur, finds out that their non-fancy schmancy photos are infringed, they call a lawyer, or sometimes even me (although a lawyer would be much better) and wonder what their options are. The first question anyone will ask a photographer whose work has been infringed upon or absconded with, as syndicators will do, is always the same “Is the image registered?” When the non-fancy schmancy or even a fancy schmancy photographer answers “No”, the answer is “Well……”. That’s because your options are limited unless you have very deep pockets and care more about the principle of the thing than the money.
The reason for registration before the infringement is that registration before infringements gives the photographer the right to statutory damages, as opposed to actual damages if not registered before the infringement. The monetary difference can be the difference between collecting a few hundred dollars and collecting into six figures. I put that in bold to make sure you get that point. Most photographers don’t like to read a lot of copy (like camera manuals), so I figure I’ll help the major points along. Actual damages as opposed to statutory damages, with some exceptions, will probably not even cover lawyer fees. Then there is the issue of the lawyer fees themselves. With timely registration, you are eligible to have the defendant cover your lawyer fees. Not a bad thing at all. In any case, you can’t even file a copyright infringement case in court without a registration in hand, registered before or after the infringement.
I always like to ask photographers if they have camera insurance and 95% seem to have it in some form to protect their cameras. Cameras are easily replaced. It seems 95% of photographers do not register their images. Copyright registration is like image insurance, but with it or without it, images are not so easy to replace. Online registration is $35 per application and you can register thousands of unpublished images per application, for $35. I just registered over 5,000 images. Cost to me? $35.00. Learn to register your images, so you wouldn’t hear a lawyer or me say “Well….”