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Why Does The Copyright Registration Process Need To Be Improved? - PPA Today

Why Does The Copyright Registration Process Need To Be Improved?

by Lindsey Forson
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You should register the copyright for all of your images! You've heard that time and time again, haven't you? All photographers have the same thoughts enter our minds when we hear this - "I don't have time for that!" "It's too confusing!" "The costs really add up!" "What's the point? I could never afford a federal lawsuit."

It is no secret that required federal lawsuits currently make copyright enforcement out of reach for most professional photographers. This is why PPA's first legislative priority before Congress is the creation of a small claims option for copyright cases. As it becomes more and more likely that we may actually achieve our small claims goal, another important legislative issue arises: With small claims, your motivation to register your work should infinitely increase, which means professional photographers will be in need of a simplified process, as the current system is just not scalable.

As photographers, we produce the highest volume of copyrighted works of all creators. This makes the copyright registration process more complicated for us than anyone else. PPA is advocating for two changes which would massively simplify the process:

(1)    the elimination of the requirement to sort images by 'publication' status and date
(2)    a self-deposit option

What happens is that the Copyright Act's definition of 'publication' was created with literary works in mind and does not always fit within the context of the photographic industry. This issue confuses the entire process for photographers and, since published and unpublished photos must be on separate applications (yep!), photographers are often required to pay two application fees to register one job. This is not practical, not fair, and very time consuming.

Professional photographers are constantly perplexed in trying to figure out (1) if a particular work is indeed 'published' and (2) what that actual 'publication' date was. Add to that the fact that you have to do this for every single image you create and you understand how non-realistic the process is! PPA proposes that this publication requirement be eliminated at least for registration of visual works. Of course, we believe creators should be able to specify the publication date of their work, if applicable, but it certainly should not be a requirement to register your work.

Here's the even bigger problem - the requirement to deposit each and every image you register. The truth is that the current copyright system only works because it excludes the vast majority of creators. Yes, this makes no sense and is exactly what we meant to say - the copyright registration system as it currently exists can only function because visual artists and other high-volume creators do not often participate.

This is unacceptable.

On a given weekend, professional wedding photographers in the United States alone create more than 6 million images! - And that is a very conservative estimate. That figure doesn't even consider portrait photographers, school photographers, sport and event photographers, commercial photographers, and the list goes on because professional photographers create millions upon millions of images, every week.

Last year, there were 88,703 total works of the visual arts registered at the U.S. Copyright Office and 467,000 total works of any kind registered for the entire year! That's less than 1% of visual works that were registered! So imagine if visual artists started registering regularly - which if we create a small claims process, will happen. Even the most modernized Copyright Office, with the current system, could not handle that volume of deposits.
This is clearly a problem for the Office itself, but there is also a huge problem for you: The amount of time it takes to upload a deposit for a photographer, who can easily create thousands of images per week, is one of the greatest deterrents to this registration process. Photographers frequently experience system crashes and freezes in the middle of their uploads. And that's not even taking into consideration the many privacy concerns relating to depositing photos of your clients.

This is why PPA recommends a self-deposit option. Creators should absolutely be given the option to deposit their images for additional protection and to contribute to the government's representative sample. However, for the system to successfully function for all creators, visual artists must have the option to register images with identifying material (dates, titles, metadata and other identifiers) instead of depositing each individual image if they choose. Creators can easily register with identifying material and then prove ownership of their work after infringements occur with contracts, other documents, and metadata. This change is absolute necessary to ease the burden for both the visual artists and the Copyright Office.

PPA is hard at work advocating for this change and other key improvements to the copyright system in the United States, and we are making a lot of progress on Capitol Hill. Stay tuned to for more soon!

Lindsey Forson is PPA's Copyright & Government Affairs Coordinator. She works with members on a daily basis addressing copyright questions and works closely with our CEO to advocate for  professional photographers on Capitol Hill and to keep members informed on the issues that affect their businesses. She's new to Atlanta and spends most of her free time exploring the city (restaurants, markets, parks); spends three nights a week playing soccer and is a huge Auburn fan.

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