Last week I finally got around to submitting for copyright a large portion of my photographic body of work. I regret that it took me so long to do it! But with the new eCO system the copyright office has set up, I’m glad I didn’t have to go through it the old-school way (with paper and mail).

The process was simple; here’s what I did:

1. In Lightroom, identify all the images I wanted to copyright. I made sure that all photos that I’ve put on the web were included, plus some other recent work that nobody has seen yet. I made a collection to hold these selected photos.

2. Export all the photos in the collection as small JPG files. I’ve heard it said that you can submit thumbnail-sized images, but I’m not sure how well that would work if you had to prove in court that an image is yours. So I went with 450px on the longest side, sRGB JPG at Quality 75. I did include a copyright notice on each one as well, although this is totally optional. I then put all my files in Zip archives for upload (see below).

3. With all my JPGs ready, I logged onto copyright.gov to create a new account for myself. Going forward, all my copyright submissions will go under this master account. Setting up the new account took 10 minutes.

4. Once the account was set up, started the process of registering a new copyright claim, under the Visual Arts category. The claims filing process has three steps:

  • Complete the claim forms – this is all done online. Completing the forms was easy; everything was very well explained. Took probably 15 minutes.
  • Make payment online – you can use a credit card or electronic check. Simple.
  • Send files – you can upload directly to the web site, or send a disk (or discs). I opted to upload files rather than sending a disc. I recommend making Zip archives of multiple files and uploading those Zip packages as your content submission.

The uploading system is fairly straightforward and, in the end, worked out just like it was supposed to, but I had a few challenges while uploading that you should be aware of.

First, there is a strict 30 minute time limit on each upload. If you are uploading large files you will certainly be affected by this, as the transfer rate to their servers is slow – 45-70 kb was about all I got. I had my uploads time out several times, even though I had carefully calculated the size of the files. I recommend that you don’t try to upload any single file of more than 40 MB. You can upload as many separate files as you need to; but you really want to be efficient with this… I ended up with three Zip files of 40 MB, 45 MB and 25MB. If you have problems with the upload service you can burn a disc and mail that in.

Second, after the files are uploaded they don’t show on your list for a few minutes. This is because they are "scrubbed" for malicious code as they go through the server firewall. The time this takes varies, so ended up re-uploading my last package because it didn’t show in the list. Oops.

You can register as many photos as you like under one claim, as long as you’re clear about the volume of work being registered. I called mine simply "NCoalson Photography thru March 2009". I ended up registering 857 images for a fee of $35. The entire process took me a couple of hours, but only because it was my first time. I expect future submissions will take no more than 15-30 minutes to complete.

After you’ve completed the forms and uploaded your files, your claim will be reviewed, and presumably approved, by the copyright office in an unspecified amount of time. Being the government, I expect it could be several months before I receive final verification of the registration. BUt I am already sleeping better at night just knowing it’s in the system.

What this means is that finally registering your photos is fast, easy and inexpensive. I strongly recommend that you file copyrights for your photos, on a regular basis.

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