10 Things You May Not Have Know About Copyrights

10. In most cases, a registered copyright will last your life plus 70 years. There are however exceptions to the rule. Cornell has a great resource page showing the common and special situations.

9. If you’ve asked for a copyright, you don’t need to renew it, as long as the work was created after January 1, 1978. Before this date renewal is optional but advised after 28 years.

8. Fair Use is a term commonly used when people use works in different ways. The Copyright office has created a doctrine of “fair use” by developing a substantial number of court decisions on the topic, using it to set precedence in current and future cases. The distinction between fair use and infringement is unclear and not easily defined. The most important thing to keep in mind is that most disagreements when it comes to fair use are settled in a court of law on a case by case basis.

7. If you file a copyright and it is rejected, you can appeal the decision. When material is rejected, the Copyright office must notify the applicant in writing the reason for the rejection. Applicants may then use a two stage process to pursue the copyright. The first appeal is made to the Examining Division, and if they uphold the refusal, a second appeal may be made to the Copyright Office Board of Appeals.

6. If you sell a print of an image, it doesn’t mean you sell the copyrights with it. Unless you agree to it, the copyright remains with you, the photographer. The Copyright Office states “mere ownership does not give the possessor the copyright. The law provides that transfer of ownership of any material object that embodies a protected work does not of itself convey any right in the copyright.”

5. Titles associated with your images are not a part of the copyright. So if you sell your images to galleries with a certain title, finding a similar image with the same name later on is not grounds for copyright infringement.

4. Public buildings built before December 1, 1990 did not have copyright protection. After that time period, there may be issues. In most cases, as long as a building is in a public space, visible and photographable, there is no infringement of the building’s copyright owners rights. This rule includes private as well as public. When art is involved in the photography of a building, however, there could be problems. If you are including the work of art in your photography, you may need permission from the copyright owner. You can check with PACA for a list of some of the protected buildings.

3. As soon as your image becomes fixed in a tangible medium, it was automatically protected by copyright. Whether its published or not, you still retain the copyright rights.  You can use the common copyright symbol “©” followed by the date, to show the world your image is copyrighted – but it’s not necessary to receive the same protection.

2. If you decide to register your work with the Copyright office, you do not have to wait until you receive your certificate of registration to publish your work. It has automatic protection as soon as you release it in a tangible medium. The certificate merely gives you more protection.

1. If you first use your images on your website as your form of tangible medium, that may constitute “publication” in the eyes of the Copyright office. While it is a difficult question, the register of copyrights has publicly stated on multiple occasions that the position of the Copyright Office is images uploaded onto a website in an area that is available to the public for access, constitutes publication of the work. As long as your site is visible to everyone – not password protected – its probably safe to assume your photographs have been published.

While I’m not a lawyer and by no means a copyright expert, these are general guidelines you can find by doing a little research online through various organizations, including the Copyright Office website. When in doubt, talk with a lawyer about any specific concerns you have.

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