Among all of the other benefits of registering your copyright, one of the practical reasons is that registration brings with it the legal presumption that you are the creator. The burden is thus placed on an infinger to disprove the validity of your registration. Typically this is very, very difficult. In other words, “very not easy”.
We often stress the point that you can register images which you may have created many years ago. Even if you shot the pictures during the Clinton or Reagan years, you can and should register the images.
So along comes another factoid gaining a foothold on the net. It usually appears in a form like this: “If your registration is made beyond 5 years after publication you lose the presumption of authorship. Therefore there is no reason to register old pictures” Essentially, bogus. In other words, “very not true”.
It is accurate to state that a registration made more than 5 years after publication is not automatically presumed to prove authorship but it merely requires that both sides assert whatever proof they have to establish who created the image if the issue of who created the image is contested. If the “infringer” is not claiming that it authored or created the picture, the lack of the presumption effectively makes no difference in court. The infringer would still need to establish that the registration is somehow flawed or improper on some other grounds ie: you stole the image from some one else and registered it in your name or more commonly, the registration does not cover the subject image. If you took the picture, you presumably can prove authorship without much difficulty. Showing out takes or similars taken at the same time typically does the trick.
If the pictures were registered more than 5 years after publication, the validity of your registration will be decided by the court. A valid registration of an “older” image is not made invalid because it was made 5+ years after publication. Usually your attorney establishes the validity of the registration in a very rudimentary fashion ie: your testimony or an affidavit of the circumstances of creation – where, when, how and why you took the shot.
The other side typically does not contest your “late” registration. There are of course, as there always are in the law, notable exceptions but they are not common. One example: showing that your registration was flawed on some technical grounds might serve to save a defendant from the risk of paying statutory damages. It is in the trial judge’s discretion to determine the validity of your registration and again, in most cases the infringer will not be contesting it.
Bottom line – don’t be a lawyer. Be a photographer and register all of work, even the “old” stuff, all of the time. Your old registered photos, like an ole hound dog, can still hunt.