If you’ve created a valuable photo that you want to protect from unauthorised use, understanding how to get an image copyrighted is essential.

This article provides a straightforward guide on the steps to secure copyright protection for your pictures.

Learn the basics of safeguarding your creative work and ensuring it remains uniquely yours.

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Understanding Photography Copyright

Photography copyright grants the photographer exclusive rights to their work.

This means they have the sole authority to reproduce the original image, create new works based on it, distribute copies, and display it publicly.

Types of Photography Eligible for Copyright

Photography encompasses various categories, including:

  1. Commercial Photography: Covers events, personal photoshoots, scientific images, and portraits.
  2. Documentary Photography: Encompasses fine art, photojournalism, and sports photography.
  3. Editorial Photography: Includes forensic, school, and wedding photography.

These categories highlight the diverse range of photographic works that can be registered for copyright protection.

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Checklist for Protecting Your Photo Copyright

Before you dive into the process of copyrighting your image, it’s crucial to ensure that it qualifies for protection. Here’s what makes a photograph eligible for copyright:

  1. Originality: The image must be your own creation and display a minimal level of creativity. It doesn’t need to be artistically exceptional and can include various types, such as digital, print, black and white, color, or graphic designs.
  2. Tangible Form: Your image must be preserved in a tangible format for some duration. In simpler terms, it can’t exist solely as an idea or concept; it must be physically captured, like on film or digitally.
  3. Ownership: You should be the rightful owner of the copyright. If you took the photo under a work-for-hire agreement, such as when working as a freelance photographer, your employer usually owns the copyright, unless your contract states otherwise.

If your image meets these criteria, you can proceed with registering its copyright with the Copyright Office.

How to Get an Image Copyrighted: A Guide

The process of registering copyright for your photographs involves the following steps:

  1. Application Form and Filing Fee: Begin by filing a standard application form and paying the necessary fees on the Copyright Office’s website (http://copyright.gov.in/frmformsDownload.aspx).
  2. Diary Number and Waiting Period: After submission, a diary number is issued, and a 30-day waiting period is provided to allow for any potential objections.
  3. Examination: If no objections are raised during the waiting period, the submitted work is reviewed by an examiner. If there are no discrepancies, it is forwarded to the Deputy Registrar for approval.
  4. Objections Handling: In cases where objections are filed, the Registrar communicates with both parties. Following their responses and a hearing with the Registrar, a decision is made regarding the application’s acceptance.
  5. Discrepancy Resolution: If discrepancies are identified in the application, a discrepancy letter is sent to the applicant. After receiving the applicant’s response, a hearing with the Registrar may be conducted.
  6. Acceptance or Rejection: Depending on the outcome, an acceptance or rejection letter is issued to the applicant.

Refference: https://copyright.gov.in/frmWorkFlow.aspx

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Determining Originality in a Photograph

Originality plays a crucial role in deciding whether a photograph is eligible for copyright protection.

The concept of the “threshold of originality” in copyright law helps determine if a work is unique enough to qualify for copyright.

In the context of photograph copyright, even the smallest details, such as the angle at which a photo is taken or the precise placement of objects, can make a photograph original and eligible for copyright protection.

Consider this example: If a photographer takes a picture of an object from a straight-on, perpendicular angle, that’s an original work.

Now, if that same object is photographed under the same lighting conditions but from an 80-degree angle, it’s still considered an original work.

Typically, copyright is granted for works where there’s a reasonable expectation that the rights associated with it might be infringed.

This means that, for instance, taking a photograph of a famous landmark like a wonder of the world is unlikely to result in copyright protection because it lacks the necessary level of originality.

In the case of Jonathan Mannion vs. Coors Brewing Co (377 F.Supp.2d 444), the court emphasised that factors like rendition, timing, and how the subject is created can influence whether a photograph is eligible for copyright protection.

Understanding Copyright Protection

Photographers have the option to register the copyright for their images, although it’s recommended rather than mandatory.

Copyright protection starts at the moment the work is created.

It’s important to note that copyright law protects the expression of an idea, not the idea itself.

Section 51 of the Indian Copyright Act of 1957 protects photographers’ artistic expression from violation.

Any violation of a photographer’s rights is considered copyright infringement.

Indian courts have determined that reproducing a photograph from a previously published source without the consent of the original author or owner is considered a violation.

However, if someone uses the same photograph without the intent of making unlawful profits, it may not be considered an infringement.

Similarly, using a photograph for legislative or academic purposes is generally deemed fair use and is permissible without prior consent from the photographer.

The Copyright Act of 1957 is comprehensive, covering not only traditional printed photographs but also online images, even if not explicitly mentioned.

The current copyright law adequately responds to the challenges presented by modern technology and establishes a robust legal foundation for copyright protection.

International Regulations for Protecting Photographs and Photographer Rights

The Indian Copyright Act aligns with various international treaties aimed at safeguarding literary and artistic works, including photographs and the rights of photographers.

Some of these key treaties and their provisions include:

  1. Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works (1886): Article 2 of this convention broadly defines literary and artistic works, encompassing artistic creations in various forms, including photography. It recognises photographs and similar works produced by analogous processes as eligible for copyright protection.
  2. Term of Copyright: Article 7 of the Berne Convention grants flexibility to individual countries to determine the duration of copyright protection for photographs. However, the convention establishes a minimum level of protection for a period of 25 years, starting from the publication date.
  3. Universal Copyright Convention (1951): This international treaty, signed by nearly 50 countries, also extends legal protection to literary and artistic works, including original photographs. Under this convention, pictures are protected for a minimum of 10 years.
  4. International Copyright Order: This has been enacted to ensure copyright protection in member countries of these conventions.

Understanding Copyright Ownership

When you own the copyright to an image, it’s your responsibility to take action if someone violates your rights. This often involves sending written notices to individuals or companies.

Dealing with Stolen Work

While there are organisations that aim to prevent illegal distribution of copyrighted materials, there’s no foolproof way to stop your work from being stolen or misused.

If your copyright material is used without permission, consider consulting a lawyer well-versed in local copyright laws for assistance.

Copyright laws differ from country to country, so navigating these legal complexities is crucial for your specific situation.

You can conduct a copyright search to avoid unintentionally using someone else’s work. This information is accessible through various websites or by contacting relevant offices, such as the U.S. Copyright Office.

An Overview of Copyright Ownership and Its Advantages

Watermarks can deter unauthorised use of your photos, but they aren’t foolproof.

Some resort to a “poor man’s copyright” by sending a copy of their work to themselves, but this doesn’t replace proper image registration.

Free copyright occurs automatically when you create a work, but it’s not registered. You own the copyright as soon as the image is created, and it’s cost-free.

However, it doesn’t provide the same level of protection as a registered copyright.

Copyright in the Digital Age

Online, you can search for photo copyrights and confirm the status of various materials through the U.S. Copyright Office’s application.

It’s advisable to contact the creator for licensing information before using media with uncertain copyright status.

Numerous websites offer access to royalty-free or fair-use images. Often, crediting the original creator is sufficient to legally use copyright-protected content.

Social Media and Copyright

Before posting your photos online, review the terms of service for each platform.

Some social media services may claim copyright over posted images, but this isn’t the case universally.

Understanding these terms is essential to protect your work and avoid potential legal issues.

For instance, on Facebook, you maintain copyright over your photos, but it’s your responsibility to report infringements.

By posting on the platform, users grant permission for their images to be used.

Protecting Your Copyright Online

Online copyright protection and legal matters can be complex. You may encounter unintentional infringement or violations from individuals outside the United States.

Strategies for safeguarding copyright online include licensing works through Creative Commons License, implementing Safe Harbor practices, and familiarising oneself with Fair Use guidelines in relation to one’s work.


Becoming a copyright owner is a critical step in protecting your intellectual property, especially when it comes to personal photos.

While official copyright notices and legal advice can enhance your rights, remember that proactive measures are your best defense.

Should infringement issues arise, you, as the copyright holder, have the legal grounds to pursue them.

By understanding the nuances of copyright, you can navigate the world of image ownership confidently, minimising the risk of an infringement lawsuit and preserving the integrity of your creative work.

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Definition of copyright.

Copyright is a legal protection granted to the creators of original creative works, including images. It gives creators exclusive rights to reproduce, distribute, and display their work and prevents others from using it without permission.

How to get copyright images online?

To obtain copyright images legally online, use Google’s Advanced Image Search. Enter your query, choose “Usage rights” under “Settings,” and filter for “Free to use or share, even commercially.”

Review image licensing, select a suitable image, and download it with proper attribution if required.

Can I copyright my image?

Yes, you can automatically copyright your image as soon as you create it and it’s in a tangible form (e.g., digital or printed).

Registration with a copyright office is optional but recommended for added protection so that you can seek statutory damage in case of infringement.

How to copyright a digital image?

To copyright a digital image, you don’t need to take any specific action.

Copyright protection is automatically granted when the image is created and saved in a digital format. Registering it with a copyright office is a recommended but optional step.

What happens if I use a copyrighted image?

Using a copyrighted image without permission or proper licensing can lead to copyright infringement. This may result in legal consequences, including fines or lawsuits.

It’s essential to obtain the necessary permissions or use images that are free to use, like those under a Creative Commons license, to avoid copyright issues.