The other day I was discussing the nature of Copyright with my sister-in-law Gloria (who is an attorney) … I stated that “Copyright is automatic upon creation of a work”.

Gloria said I was incorrect … that you had to register for a copyright … and that you had no basis in court unless you do register the copyright.

This was quite a shock to me … so I decided to do some research.

Turns out that Gloria was partially right in a technical sense … and completely correct in a practical sense.

According to the Copyright Office

Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.


You will have to register, however, if you wish to bring a lawsuit for infringement of a U.S. work.

In other words … your work is automatically copyrighted as soon as you create it … but said copyright is effectively useless, from a legal perspective, unless you register it with the Copyright office (which, I think, costs $35 / registration).

I suspect this legal detail is lost on a lot of people.

3 thoughts on “Copyright

  1. Kris

    Thanks for pursuing that clarification. I had heard those facts on a few different photography podcasts and in a few magazine articles, too. Part of it was having to separately copyright individual images (sounding vary tedious) and the other part trying to get compensated for someone stealing your image for their own gain.

    If it’s not registered, a court really won’t entertain cries for compensation.

  2. Rory

    So can you register it AFTER someone has stolen it, or does it need to have been registered prior to someone else infringing?


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