(Last Updated On: April 20, 2022)

When registering a copyright for a published work, each must be registered individually with some exceptions. For unpublished works, there is a bit more flexibility.  First, though, to recognize when these exceptions are applicable, copyright holders must understand the difference between a published and unpublished work. 

Copyright law defines “publication” as the distribution of copies of a work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership or by rental, lease, or lending.

Offering to distribute copies to a group of people for purposes of further distribution or display is also considered publication. However, a public display does not in itself constitute publication. Art that exists in only one copy, such as a painting, is not regarded as published when that painting is sold or offered for sale. It is when there are multiple reproductions offered for distribution that the work is considered published.  Posting the image to a website is also generally considered published.

Copyright Published vs. Unpublished Works

If a creative work is published, then each work must be uploaded individually and the $35 fee paid for each. (The preferred way to register is to use the eCo system online at copyright.gov; for a detailed tutorial, click here).  One exception is for published photographs (this does not include photographs of other art, just the photographs themselves).

by Chris Reed

A single registration can be made for a group of published photographs if all the following conditions are met.

  1. The same photographer took all the photographs
  2. All the photographs were first published in the same calendar year.
  3. All the photographs have the same copyright claimant(s).

The limit is 750 photos per registration.  Be sure that unpublished and published images are not combined in the same registration. Copyright holders can upload the images using a zip file, they do not have to be uploaded individually.  However, be sure to use a naming convention that makes the images recognizable since the certificate from the copyright office does not include the images, only the names.  It is helpful to create a contact sheet with the names of each photo.  When the registration certificate is received via mail, attach the contact sheet so that they cannot be separated.

The other exception is for unpublished works.   A group of unpublished works can be registered as a collection if all the following conditions are met.

  1. The elements of the collection are assembled in an orderly form.
  2. The combined elements bear a single title identifying the collection as a whole.
  3. The copyright claimant or claimants for each element in the collection are the same.
  4. All the elements are by the same author or, if they are by different authors, at least one author has contributed copyrightable authorship to each element.

Note that individual image titles are not listed, only the title of the collection

There is no time limit here.  This may be a good idea for photographers who have thousands of unused photos or musicians with unpublished songs.  Of course, one has to decide whether unpublished works are worth copyrighting at all since, being unpublished, the public does not see them.  However, incidents such as stolen computers do occur and so photos, old scripts or unused songs on the hard drive may end up in the hands of people who choose to exploit them.

One final suggestion for those artists that may need to upload many images; use book creator software to make a PDF photo book. Then, rather than uploading a zip file, just upload the PDF.  Most book software will allow the author to use the filename as the name of the image.  Assuming all the requirements are satisfied, the book and all the images inside will be registered.  Just be sure that for the unpublished works’ PDF book, the software doesn’t automatically publish the book to the Internet.

If you have any other suggestions or ways that you have made the process easier, please post them in the comments section below.  Please post this article to your social media if you found it interesting.

Steve Schlackman
Steve Schlackman

As a photographer and Patent Attorney with a background in marketing, Steve has a unique perspective on art, law, and business. He is currently serving as the Chief Product Officer at Artrepreneur. You can find his photography at artrepreneur.com or through Fremin Gallery in NYC.

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