You're an artist and you're ready to copyright images of your work because you take your art seriously and are in business as an artist. In this post I have outlined a few simple steps to get you started, as well as a few tips and additional information at the end of the post.
You can find out almost anything you want to know on the www.copyright.gov/eco/ page, from acceptable file types to what can be copyrighted. I highly recommend visiting the site and reading over the FAQ's for more information than what I cover here.
My experience with copyright registration is as a fine art photographer, copyrighting collections of works, however, these steps can be useful to anyone who will photograph their finished work for copyright.
I highly recommend registering a collection for a one time fee of $55 (as of 2014) as opposed to registering individual works of art at $55 each. That's kind of no-brainer, but there are stipulations to registering a collection which can be found on the FAQ page.
You can also find out more about the difference between published and unpublished works there.
OK, so we'll assume you've done all your final editing and now have a collection of final images. You have numbered them, backed up the files and created a folder for them.
I like to keep it easy and simple. I number the images chronologically, and if I have converted any to black and white or am keeping additional cropped images, I just add a letter to the number. In other words, if the original file is number 100, the cropped file is 100C and the black and white file is 100A.
I name the folder (collection) with a date; Coastal Trip 2014, which will also be the name I give the collection when registering my copyright.
Now you'll create a zip file. If you have never done this before, download something free like WinZip and it will walk you through the process. This is the recommended file type that the copyright site prefers for a collection. It compresses the images and takes less time to upload.
As an added note about backing up your data, I back up all of my images this way; I keep the RAW originals on the SD card, save a copy of the TIFF's on a CD and a flash drive, as well as my external hard drive. I try to keep at least two of these some place other than my home, like a safety deposit box.
I prefer to register my collection before I ever publish one image. Publishing basically means going public; uploading to the internet, on a blog, offering an image for sale, etc. I heard a lawyer say that it could be more difficult to win a suite of infringement on an image that was copyrighted after it was published.
Now you are ready to copyright your unpublished work. Go to www.copyright.gov and click on the box that says Register a Copyright.
You will need to create an account. Once you have an account you can sign in at any time and check the process of your registration or register new works.
I highly recommend downloading or printing out the eCO Tutorial PDF, it will give you great guidance through the process.
Back on the eCO site, follow the instructions and carefully read all of the choices you have. You can go back and make changes, or save your work and finish later (note however, that your work is not registered until you have completed the process). The whole process could take up to a half hour or more, so plan on it.
You will pay for your registration before you upload your work, this is explained in the Tutorial. Just follow the instructions and you'll be fine. Be sure and print out a copy of your receipt (this expense is a tax deduction by the way). Also be sure and wait for the upload to complete, this could take up to 15 minutes.
Application processing times are lengthy, up to 8 months, but your copyright is effective as of the date of online registration. So, you do not need to wait for your certificate before publishing your work. For mail in processing I believe it is when they receive your completed submission.
Congratulations! Your collection is now copyrighted!
Always use caution when putting your images online. Most of the time you can watermark your images (by adding text such as copyright 2014 Jeni Gray Photography).
Copyright is just good business. It's not that we're all paranoid about having our images stolen, but it happens and registering for copyright is like getting insurance.
Now you can go on about your creativity. However, if you have had a bad experience, or just want to take it a step further, there is a wonderful new site called www.pixsy.com where you can ask to be invited for their Beta program. I am registered there and find it fairly easy to use.
After you are a member and they have your information, their search engines seek out your images online - globally. You can run through the findings and search for unauthorized users.
The great thing about Pixsy is that they work for us, if we need to file a suite they only charge "a fair success fee for all revenue" they collect on our behalf.
I've added a few more sections here from the Copyright site that answer some common questions. I have quoted the Copyright Office and italicized the sections.