I don’t know where this got started, but there is some bad info going around about a one-month window to register a work to get statutory damages (and maybe attorneys’ fees and costs). There is no such thing.
I thought it was just a fluke when I recently had a potential new client tell me that she had registered a work within one month of discovering an infringement and thought that meant she could get statutory damages. Then, however, I saw PDN recently publish essentially the same wrong info, so now I’m worried.
Like I said, there is no such thing as a one-month window. There is, actually, no one month anything for anything copyright registration-related that applies to most of you (especially photographers). Nada. Nichevo. Rien. Nothing. And I really don’t want any of you to get burned by learning rules that aren’t rules, so let’s get the right info out there.
Here is the law on this issue: in order for someone to be able to get statutory damages for an infringement of unpublished work, s/he must register the copyright with the US Copyright Office before the infringement in question started. Period. That’s it. No other options.
For published work, the same rule applies (register before the infringement). However, for published work only, there is also a “safe harbor”: for three calendar months after the first publication of a work, someone can register and it is as if the registration happened on the date of the first publication (thus any infringement that happens after that date of first publication is covered).
Okay, hopefully that is clear.
By the way, I’m disappointed that PDN published wrong info (and that they haven’t corrected it as of this writing, despite being told by my mentor Carolyn Wright that is was wrong). It does go to another important point, though: when it comes to the law, ask a lawyer. Though often well meaning, a writer, a photographer, any other artist will often get it wrong.
I’ll step off my soapbox now.