New Rules (probably)

The US Copyright Office is proposing new rules for registering photographs and it is asking for comments on these rules. There are three main categories with proposed changes: supplemental registrations, group registration of contributions to periodicals, and group registration of photographs.

The last one is likely the most important one for most photographers, so I want to talk about it, mostly, in this post. You can go here to read the official information(pdf), but I suspect most of you would rather poke yourself in the eye with a sharp stick as it’s written in governmental legalese. Here’re the basics you might want to know before wading into the Federal Register.

First, all group registrations of published photos (designated GRPPH) will have to be submitted electronically (no more paper options) with digital images submitted as deposit copies. Second, the maximum number of photos permitted in a single registration will be 750. Third, photographers would have to submit a separate list of all the photos being submitted as a part of the group “with a title, file name (matching the file name of the corresponding deposit copy), and in the case of GRPPH, the month and year of publication 29 (e.g., January 2016, February 2016, etc.) for each photograph in the group.” Finally, the deposit copies must be submitted in electronic form but you can send them on a disk or flash drive or upload them (with a 500MB limit per file uploaded).

Importantly, the last significant changeis that they are proposing a new category of Group Unpublished Photographs (designated GRUPH); before one could do an “unpublished collection” but this new category would replace that and have all the same requirements as the Group Published Photographs, including the 750 photos limitation and the list (but without publication dates, of course).

The only major difference between the two groups is that for published photos, the photos have to have been published within the same calendar year but the unpublished ones are not limited by time. Besides that, the groups must be only photographs and the photographs must be created by the same photographer–no mixing like 25 photos by Photo Bob and 32 photos by Photo Betty. Both the Group Published Photographs and the Group Unpublished Photographs registrations will be $55 per registration.

As always, you still may not mix published and unpublished in a single registration. That isn’t going to change with these rules chages, although I suspect that these changes may be a step in that eventual direction (maybe).

The Copyright Office is proposing to eliminate the pilot program for the Group Published registrations and to change the application process, to streamline it more. The Unpublished and the Published processes will be very much the same. Photographers will be encouraged to list the titles (and publication dates for published works) on the application itself as that will put them on the Certificate and that gives you advantages legally (I’m not going into that here, though–just do it) but, at a minimum, you’ll have to submit the list with all that information with the deposit copies (still, take the time to list the titles, it will be worth it).

Most importantly, the proposed rule would clarify that the single registration of a group confers full protection for each individual photograph in the group. That would eliminate the arguments that defendants use to try and limit the damages (or argue fair use) we see in court sometimes, like that using one image out of a registration of 500 items is de minimis since it’s only 1/500th of the whole. This is a very good thing.

To submit comments on these new proposed rules, first read the details in the pdf linked to above, then you can comment by going here. Note that comments are due by January 3, 2017.

The Supplementary Registration is used to correct errors or make changes to an existing registration. Hopefully, you’ll never need to file one, but if you do you’re very likely going to have to do it electronically in the future. For more information on the proposed changes or to make comments, go here.

If you make contributions to periodicals, you may use that form of registration (GRCP) and there are changes there as well. Mostly, it is about making the registrations electronic, much like the Group Photo options I described above (are you seeing a theme here?). Notably, the Copyright Office notes in the Group Registrations proposed changes that it encourages photographers to use those options instead of the GRCP as there are fewer limitations. Still, if you use this form of registration (and this applies to text as well as photos, by the way), you should go here to read about the changes and to submit comments.