Apologies to Mr. Reagan, but in the world of copyright authors ought trust nobody but themselves when it comes to registering their work.

We get – on average – two inquiries per week which are variations of the following scenario:

An author or contributor of photos or illustrations contained in (usually) a book, have entered into an agreement whereby the publisher is obligated to register the copyright for the work. That ordinarily means the book/video/magazine as a work itself.  That type of agreement rarely if ever requires the publisher to register the photographer/illustrator’s works which appear in the book.

Alas, author/photographer/illustrator discovers that 5, 10 or 20 years have passed and the work to which they contributed was actually never copyright registered itself.  The creator neglected to register his/her own work relying on the publisher’s promise in writing  to register the work to protect themselves.  So the work itself and your photos or illustrations themselves, we never registered at the Copyright Office. As Dana Carvey might say, “That’s not gonna do it, not good enough!”

Many publishers simply neglect to register the copyrights for their products. Incredibly some of the biggest selling books in history published by the biggest publishing houses simply neglected to register the copyrights for books whose titles are known to every reader of this column. They include works that have been turned into movies, mini series or pop fiction with sales in the tens of millions. The responsibility to register was delegated to an employee that no one checked on.

If you as a contributor have a contract which obligates the publisher to copyright the work, you need to require written confirmation and receipt of a copy of the US Copyright Office’s Registration.  Additionally, you as the creator of photos, illustrations etc. must register your works separately, in your own name or that of your company. Even if the client registers their work, you should not depend on the compilation registration of the book/video/magazine itself. You need to be pro-active and register your contributing work or if it’s your book or video, check that the entire work itself was registered.

NEVER trust any publisher or agent to make those registrations on your behalf. Did we say never?   Sorry, we meant to say NEVER.

If a publisher has failed to register the work you may have some legal recourse against the publisher if it is still in business….maybe. If you have registered your own works and they have been infringed you are covered and the fate of the publisher is likely of no concern to you.

If the client/publisher is responsible for registration, you have to require an actual receipt of both the application for copyright of the work AND a copy of the registration issued for the work.  These requirements must be explicitly put in every contract.

If you have not received a copy of the application within 10 days of publication write to the publisher requesting it. If you have not received a copy of the actual registration for the work within 60 days of publication, write the publisher and request a copy. (They may or may not have received the registration but they will confirm that the application has been made and not -as yet- rejected).

We know of one savvy author whose contract was explicit about the publisher, not the author registering the copyright. The author checked 2 months after publication to the employee responsible for registration and was told they “didn’t get around to it yet.” Author then asks employee if the author can register it themselves (despite what the contract says). Employee responsible for registering replied “Sure!” as it was now off their desk. Author registered their own work and the publisher has no idea that that was done (or not done).

Regardless of the efficiency of the publisher, your contract should state that your images/works have already been sent to the USCO, provide the application number to the publisher and you will be obtaining registrations in your name for your works.

Do not provide any publisher or video producer or client with images/works that you have not already applied for or obtained a Copyright Registration from the United States Copyright Office yourself. The size and relative sophistication of your client is irrelevant.  Large publishers are as likely to screw up or ignore registering their works as small independent, niche publishers.

The first rule of boxing it to “protect yourself at all times”.  Same here.

Should you find that the publisher has never registered the work, consult with a local copyright attorney who can advise you as to your next step – if any.  If you haven’t registered your works, do so, immediately if not sooner.