How to Copyright Graphics

by David Hastings Google
Copyright registration helps protect your graphics from unauthorized exploitation.

Copyright registration helps protect your graphics from unauthorized exploitation.

Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images

Original graphics you create are protected by copyright even if you don't register them with the U.S. Copyright Office. Registration gives you the advantage of being able to sue an infringer in federal court, and it will help prove your case. You must register before an infringement occurs or within three months from the date of publication to collect attorneys’ fees and statutory damages. If you believe there’s a chance that someone might infringe on your work, copyright registration may be a smart choice.

Step 1

Determine whether group filing is appropriate. If you have multiple unpublished graphics that you wish to register – for example, a collection of website graphics – you can probably register your images as a group. This will save you time and money because you only have to submit one form and pay one filing fee. To qualify for group filing, a collection of unpublished graphics must be created by the same artist (or have a single artist who contributed to all of them). In addition, all of the images must have the same claimant; the images must be assembled "in an orderly form"; and the collection must be given a single title. Graphics that have been published are also eligible for group filing in certain cases, such as published collections of photographs.

Step 2

Decide whether to apply for copyright registration online or by mail. You can register your graphics online unless you are applying for a group registration of already published works. Applying online has several advantages, including lower fees, faster response time from the Copyright Office, and you can upload digital copies of your graphics instead of sending them through the mail. To apply online, navigate to the U.S. Copyright Office website, click on "Electronic Copyright Office" and follow the directions to register and log in. If you prefer to register by mail, print a copy of Form VA (link in Resources).

Step 3

Fill out the registration form with the required information. The paper form and the online application both require the same information, including details about the graphics and the creator. If you have trouble completing the form, consult with a copyright attorney or an legal document filing service such as LegalZoom.com for assistance.

Step 4

Pay the application fee. Prepare a check or money order if you are applying by mail. For online applications, you can pay by debit or credit card. Refer to the Copyright Office website for current fees using the link in the Resources section of this article.

Step 5

Prepare your "deposit." You must submit material to identify your work, known as the deposit, with your copyright application. Generally, you must send one copy of unpublished graphics or two copies of published graphics. For details, consult the circular "Deposit Requirements for Registration of Claims to Copyright in Visual Arts Material." If you are applying online, you can submit electronic copies of your graphics if they are unpublished or if they have only been published electronically (and in a few other cases). Otherwise, you must mail in your deposit.

Step 6

Submit your application. If you apply online, you'll receive an email confirming that your registration is complete. If you were unable to submit your deposit via the Web, follow the online instructions to mail it to the Copyright Office. If you are applying by mail, send your completed registration form, payment and deposit to the Copyright Office. In either case, you should receive a certificate of registration once your application has been processed, which requires at least several months.