How to Obtain a Photography Copyright

A "C" in a circle is a symbol of copyright protection.
A "C" in a circle is a symbol of copyright protection. (Image: Jupiterimages/ Images)

Creative works — once put into concrete form — are protected by copyright. These include written materials, such as stories, poems, essays and articles, as well as music, sculpture, painting, film and photography. In the case of photographs, copyright protection makes it illegal for anyone to use your photographs without your permission, except for a few, limited exemptions, such as copying thumbnail images of a photograph for a research paper. You can protect your works by establishing and clearly indicating the copyright status.

Do nothing. Copyright laws protect creative works from the moment they are put into concrete form. For example, a musical tune that you created and hum aloud is not protected, but as soon as the tune is written out as a musical score or recorded on tape, it is in concrete form and is protected by federal copyright. Copyright law protects your photographs from the time an image is captured.

Put a copyright notice on your photograph, even though it is not required for copyright protection. You reinforce the copyright status of your work by including a copyright notice, consisting of the photographer's name, the date the work was created and either the word "copyright" or with the letter C in a circle as the copyright symbol.

Register your copyright at the online Electronic Copyright Office. Registration requires basic identification information and an electronic file with a copy of the photograph you are registering. The Copyright Office charges a fee for registering; check the Electronic Copyright Office website for the latest fee structure. Registration is not required, but the Copyright Office has a registration process for those who wish to document the status of their work. Registration can provide an additional degree of copyright protection should a question arise as to who is the legitimate creator of a work.

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