The three words we dread to see on products when we hike to the grocery store to stock up on our favorites, are the words “New and Improved!” (Always with one or two exclamation points). Uh oh. That doesn’t start with a T, but it still spells trouble here in River City. Usually, it’s a new box, new design around our cereal or a new jar holding our peanut butter. And gloryoski, the price and the taste is still the same. But wait a minute; any shopper over 8 years old knows what’s coming next. There is less cereal or less peanut butter in the jar. What the……? This improved part is for the manufacturer, not for us the customer.

The Copyright Office has just announced substantial changes to the registration process. These changes will take effect soon on February 20, 2018.  The changes in the procedures will affect registering both published and unpublished images.  We will be following up this article shortly with more details but for now please be advised that unless you are filing registrations before February  20, 2018, the rules of the game have been changed by the folks in DC.

What are the new registration changes at the Copyright Office? This is what we know. The amount, $55 per application apparently stays the same, but there’s a lot less in it for photographers. While in the past you could register thousands of images on one application, like Jack’s 13,000 from a two week African shoot, you are now limited to 750 images per application. That’s for a group registration of published or unpublished photos. And still, the two cannot be mixed together. Published and unpublished are still segregated in registration applications.

At a 750 limit, it means that Jack’s 13,000 images from his Africa trip would take 17.3 applications to register. OK, let’s edit a bit and call it 17. That would cost him $935 dollars to register his Africa images rather than $55. Let’s get it down to another example, a much smaller amount, like a wedding photographer, who knows that if they over-shoot, the editing and post production time costs them money. Let’s say they clamp down, turn off that motor drive, and shoot just 1,500 images. The registration now doubles to $110 for that registration, rather than $55. Try and pass that on to the bride and groom who are already upset at what the rose petals for the ring girl cost them.

As they say on TV: But wait! There’s more! When registering you now have to submit an Excel spreadsheet, a PDF, or some other accepted listing of all file titles of each image separately.

It reads thus under item (10) in the new rules: “The applicant must submit a sequentially numbered list containing a title and file name for each photograph in the group…”

That title has to match the file name you have for that image, but that’s easy. This was always required for registering published images, but not for a collection of unpublished images. Not a big hurdle, but still something that has to be done.

There is an advantage to this in that they are eliminating the distinction between a collection and a compilation, saying that each image is now it’s own “work” and can be litigated separate from the whole. So if two images were infringed from one registration, it would be two separate infringements, not one. It’s a technical issue that reads well and is good, but truthfully, that’s been the practice in infringement litigations. Each image in a collection (not a compilation) has been viewed as separate infringements

There are some minor changes that will affect companies that have staff photographers, stock agencies, and registration services that all try to mass register a group of photographers. No can do. Each application needs a single “author” of the work. We think this might be the result of Corbis and Getty and such, screwing up and having registrations that contained multiple photographers thrown out in court.

For some photographers who work together in collaboration this single author issue will be a big problem as they can no longer have a “co-registration”. Only one author to photographic works. The copyright office says they will look at such issues on an individual basis, but since they are already saying they are understaffed, and we see this issue as being very burdensome process for both sides if they do it case by case.

Please understand, we love the Copyright Office and it’s staff. They are wonderful to work with if you have questions or need help. They are the anti-DMV in that respect. They are underfunded and under staffed. We know that. But this new and improved system that they are touting is new and improved for them, not us.

The process for published work is being streamlined and improved, eliminating their “pilot” program that effectively eliminated the need to have an inspector assigned to you until they felt you understood and knew the registration process. What they’re doing is now lining up the process used for published work with unpublished work. Easier for them, not so great for us.

Some of the new directives seem to be written with someone’s tongue firmly in one’s cheek. The one we really like is they point out while there is a 750 image limit now, you can submit as many $55 as you want. The wording states: “But it is important to recognize that the final rule does not impose any limit on the number of applications that may be submitted at a given time.”

In other words, feel free to spend $935 rather than $55 for those 13,000 images. The Copyright Office will not limit, will not put a ceiling, on how much it now costs you. So if you want to buy the smaller volume cereal box at the same old price, you can buy as many boxes as you want. Yeah, thanks. No limit to my added overhead expenses.

The Copyright Alliance, the usual collection of alphabet trade organizations representing photographers, did ask for some great improvements during the study put on by the Copyright Office. But they were heard, their objections and ideas were basically ignored. They asked that unpublished work be given the same three month window to register after an infringement happens to be fully covered with the benefits of preregistration, namely statutory damages and lawyer fees. Wow. That would have been huge; a huge help for photographers, but it’s a no go.

More to come on this as we get more info, so stay tune to this same channel.