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How to Copyright a Photograph

written by: Brian Nelson•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 1/21/2011

Photographs, like paintings, sculptures, songs, and written text are all subject to copyright laws. Copyrights are designed to protect the artistic works of their creators and are a form of intellectual property law.

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    How to Get a Copyright Registered on a Photo

    Many people are surprised to learn that all artistic works are protected by copyright immediately upon being produced by the artist. Whether it is words written by an author, lines drawn by a painter, or a picture taken by a photographer, a full-fledged copyright exists on that work from the moment it is created. All works are fully protected by copyright regardless of whether they are registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. In addition, all artistic works have a full copyright whether or not they have a statement saying that they are copyrighted or have the familiar “C" inside a circle printed on them.

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    Registering Copyright

    If all works of art are automatically copyrighted upon creation, then what is the point of registering a copyright?

    It can be very difficult to prove who is the original creator of a work absent some sort of registry that documents both what was created and when it was created. This is what registering a copyright does.

    Likewise, placing a copyright notice on a work of art does not create the copyright, but rather eliminates the contention that a copyright violation was unintentional.

    Filing a copyright claim, or registering a copyright provides evidence of exactly what photograph was created, who it was created by, and when it was created. Should someone ever misuse the photograph, the registration of copyright claim will be a powerful piece of evidence in any court proceedings.

    Copyrights can be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. An online filing of a basic claim on an original work costs $35. Filing paper forms costs more and are processed more slowly. Only after a copyright has been registered is it permissible to use the little c inside the circle symbol.

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    What is the Difference Between a Copyright and a Trademark?

    There are many nuances to the exact differences between trademarks and copyrights, there are some main differences that can help alleviate some confusion.

    Brand names, slogans, symbols, and designs which are used to identify the source of goods or services and to distinguish them from others are subject to trademarks and not copyrights. In other words, something that marks your work as yours is a trademark, your work itself is not a trademark, it falls under copyright.

    For photographers, the pictures are subject to copyright, but not trademark. A logo or symbol stamped onto a photograph for the purpose of showing who produced the photograph would be a trademark.