Copyrighting anything you have created costs you nothing. You simply put ‘Your Name 2005’ (2006, etc.) on it, beside it, or wherever the public can read it, and the act of copyright is done. It’s free — a gift from your government.

You’ve probably heard that registering your copyright costs you $30. Yes, that’s true, there is a $30 dollar fee if you choose to formally register your song, short story, photograph, painting, or whatever. You fill out Form TX for the written word, or form VA for graphic creations, such as photographs. Send in two copies of the ‘work’, plus your $30 dollars, to the Register of Copyright, Library of Congress, and your work will be entered into the archives and you will be in a better position to collect compensation in case of copyright infringement.

However, your work is still protected when you simply place a (c), plus your name or the name of your publication, on your masthead of your periodical, or over one of your thumbnails on the web.

Many people confuse registering a trademark, or patenting an invention, with copyright. The first two consist of long and drawn-out processes, and usually require an attorney. Not so with registering a copyright.

If you haven’t taken advantage of the free copyright privilege provided to you by our Copyright Law, begin to do so today. A (c) on everything you’ve produced, wards off would-be infringers. It carries the aura of a federal offense — like the label on a mattress: Do Not Destroy Under Penalty Of Law. The (c) sign also adds an air of professionality to your photograph.

* What does work-for-hire mean?

If you are employed by a company and take a picture or write a story for that company as part of your duties as an employee, generally speaking that is work for hire. The company owns the picture or created work, not you. You have probably, somewhere along the line, signed a “work for hire” agreement with your employer. (If you haven’t, the new law assumes you have total ownership of your pictures, or writing, unless there’s an agreement in writing to the contrary).

If you are an editor of a company magazine and you specifically order or commission a freelancer to take a certain picture for which you want to retain all rights, and you have a signed agreement saying so, the freelancer is “working for hire.”

However, if you, as an editor of a magazine, give a freelancer an assignment (writing or photography) and your magazine pays for the film and expenses, the writer or photographer is not necessarily working for hire unless you and he/she sign an agreement saying so.

Most writers or photographers don’t care to sign such documents. If they do, they demand a much higher fee than their normal “one-time rights basis” fee.

On the other hand, if you do not commission the writer or photographer to “work for hire,” there’s a monetary advantage when you “lease” a photograph or an article on a one-time rights basis, at a cost much lower than if you were to purchase exclusive rights to that article or photograph. If your magazine or periodical has a medium or low budget, explain to the photographer or author that he/she is free to market their work elsewhere since you are purchasing only one-time rights. Because your periodical is specialized, you’ll probably have no problem with cross-readership conflict.

[Section 101(1)(2)]

* How long does an author own the copyright on his/her writing or a photograph?

The new Copyright Law says a created work “subsists from its creation” (when the article is completed, or the picture is snapped), and he/she owns copyright to it for as long as he/she lives, plus 75 years. That is if the author registers the copyright. In some rare cases, an author could publish an article in an uncopyrighted magazine, and if no copyright notice ((c)2005 John Doe) appeared alongside the article, and if the author did not rectify this within five years, the article could become public domain — that is, anyone could use the article (or photograph, or drawing, etc.). But this would be rare.

The old copyright law, by the way, allowed only fifty-six years to own a created work.

To register your copyright, the current fee is $30. Ask for Form VA for graphic arts and Form TX for non-pictorial work such as writing. The address: Register of Copyrights, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20559. Their phone: (202)707-3000. (Information specialists will answer your specific questions any time of day). Again, it is not totally necessary to register (fee) your created works. Doing so does make your legal recourse, in case of infringement, much stronger with regard to collecting monetary recompense. However, simply placing a (c) on your photograph or writing is usually sufficient to tell the world that the work is yours. Placing that (c) on it costs you nothing. Section 302(a); 405(1)(2)(3)]

* Can a photographer place the (c) notice on his/her slides and photographs and be protected, in court, even if he/she didn’t register the picture with the Copyright Office?

If a picture is not registered (with the Copyright Office), it does not mean it is not copyrighted. Use this analogy: Your automobile — you own title (copyright) to it, even if you choose not to register it. Once you drive it (publish your picture), you’re vulnerable to accidents (infringement). If you were to go to court, it would be a lot easier for your attorney to represent you (and to win your case), if your automobile (photo) was registered with the Department of Motor Vehicles (Copyright Office). [Section 401(a)(c), 405(a)(2)(3), 407(a)(2), 408(a)]

* What if you, as publisher or editor, want to reprint a photographer’s picture a second time, as a reprint of the original publication of it, or you want to use the photographer’s picture to advertise your publication, or want to use his/her picture a second time in an anthology? Do you, the publisher or editor, have the right?

A publisher is privileged to use a picture a second time without agreement with or additional compensation to the photographer, when a picture is used as a revision of the original book or periodical. For other usage, such as advertising, or a different editorial use, other than the original use, additional compensation to the photographer (or author) is in order. [Section 201(c)]

Note: a common practice in the publishing world is to pay a photographer 75% of the original fee for the photograph when the photo is used a second time, for a use different from what the photograph was originally used for.

* What is the statute of limitations for infringement?

If you don’t discover an infringement within three years, you have no legal recourse for damages. [Section 507(a)(b)]

* Are pictures used in advertising also copyrighted by the publisher in a copyrighted publication?

No. The publisher can claim copyright only on that material over which he has editorial authority and control. Therefore, if a photographer’s picture is used for advertising purposes, it should be published with the copyright notice visible. But this is a task for the advertiser to address, not the publisher or editor. [Section 404(a)]

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References:

Public Law 94-553 (90 Stat. 2541) Title 17 USC Copyrights, signed on October l9, l976, by President Gerald Ford; entered into force on January 1, 1978; supersedes the Copyright Act of 1909.