One of the things that make this copyright blog of ours unique is that we pull stuff from our actual experiences. They are not assumptions, not impossible scenarios or “what ifs”, but rather experiences and events from the field, from real life. Most of the time the names and the exact facts are changed to protect the innocent, the guilty, and the foolish. We use the “Blue in the Face” logo, because no matter how often we say something, we find often find ourselves repeating things over and over again until we have become, blue in the face.

With that, allow us to state some things we’ve said before because as the Farmer’s Insurance tagline says, “We know a thing or two because we’ve seen a thing or two”. Although it does sound better when Oscar winner J.K. Simmons says it. While they are hardly on the level of The Ten Commandments there are some basic rules that will fill and/or protect your wallet.

First, there is no substitute for filing your registration with the Copyright Office at Nothing. It’s not only the gold standard, it’s the only standard to really protect your images in the United States. Too many photographers we speak with have found this out the hard way.

Second, register your images yourself. It’s not hard, it’s not complicated, 9 year olds do it. Anyone or any company that wants to do it for you is simply placing their hand in your pocket, even if it’s a “free” service. Nothing like that is free. There is no free lunch and heaven forbid one of these “services” screws up your registration. None that we are acquainted with guarantee an accurate registration with monetary compensation.

Third,  do not discuss any disputes of an kind on social media. If you’ve been infringed or even think your work might have been infringed, consult with a competent IP lawyer. We know that many of you want to get everyone riled up and start a campaign against your infringer by harnessing the power of social media. That should be your last option after you’ve gone through all legal options. Even then, you should sleep on it, tread very carefully and check with a lawyer because the blowback can be very, very expensive.

Fourth, do not send an invoice to an infringer for perceived infringements. We’ll have more on where we think this myth of sending an invoice for two or three times your usual fee comes from, but for now understand that sending any invoice hamstrings you. It is paid, we’d guess 5% of the time, if that. (OK, we have one assumption here, forgive us). If you find out the infringement is bigger than you first thought and you now want to sue, guess what? The other side will show the judge your invoice and you will be asked why there is an invoice from you for $600 and now you want $30,000 because your attorney has correctly determined that $30,000 is quite reasonable under The Copyright Law. That opening offer will not go well for you and your lawyer and you will be made out to look like a “pig”. That is an important factor because if the court views your lawyer as being out for a big fee, you the client suffers. When it comes to sending out “penalty” invoices remember, “Just DON’T Do It”.  Sorry, Nike.

Fifth, do not believe the campaign out there to scare you into thinking that you can’t sue unless you spend $100,000 or more and/or that lawyers will not even take your case unless it’s “worth at lest $30,000”. Both statements we can say from real world experience, are BS.

Sixth, do not assume that an infringement of an unregistered image is not worthwhile pursuing.  We have written in this blog of a 2 million dollar recovery in such a case (Andrew Paul Leonard) and Ed has had more cases than he can count of collecting high five and even six figure cases where the image was registered solely to be able to sue and actual damages only were recovered or settled for. The decision on whether a claim is economically viable for litigation has to be made on a case-by-case basis in consultation with an IP attorney.

Seventh, lastly,when registering unpublished images register the entire shoot.  Every single image, all of them. Even before you color correct or any other corrections. An image that is enhanced by processing is a derivative of your image and you’re still covered, even after you HDR’d it. The fee is a single $55 for the entire submission regardless of whether you are registering 2 images or 2,000. A single image by itself is only $35, but we think thousands for $55 is a good deal.  Jack’s high water mark is 13,000 from an African trip.

Do not select “only” the best picture or the single image your client likes or uses. Register the entire take, all of them never just select a single image because you believe it is a “representative sample”. There are no exceptions to this rule. Simple, short, direct and now you have no excuse for not following it. Again, the registration fee is the same $55 regardless of the number of images you are registering.

That’s it for now, but we’re sure to have some more “blue material” sooner rather than later.