1114.5 When May an Application for a Group Registration Be Filed?
The U.S. Copyright Office will register a group of photographs, provided that the applicant complies with the requirements set forth in Sections 1114.1 through 1114.4.
An application for a group registration may be filed at any time, but a photograph must be registered in a timely manner in order to seek statutory damages and attorney’s fees in an infringement action. Specifically, a copyright owner may seek these remedies if the photograph was registered (I) before the infringement commenced or (ii) within three months after the first publication of that work. See 17 U.S.C. § 412.
In the case of unpublished photographs, the Office strongly encourages applicants to register their photos before sharing them with any other party. By doing so, applicants will preserve the copyright owner’s ability to seek statutory damages and attorney’s fees in subsequent infringement disputes involving those works.
In the case of published photographs, the Office strongly encourages applicants to submit their claims every three months (instead of filing on an annual or semi-annual basis), and in each case, to file the claim within three months after the earliest publication date specified in the application. See Registration of Claims to Copyright, Group Registration of Photographs, 65 Fed. Reg. 26,162, 26,164 (May 5, 2000).
Example: Photos Published through the Authorized Distribution of One or More Copies of the Work
• John Olsen is a wedding photographer. On April 1st John posted 100 photos from a bridal shower in a password-protected folder on his website. On May 1st he posted 50 photos from the bachelor party. On June 1st he posted 600 photos from the wedding day. In each case, John sent the bride and groom a link and a temporary password for this folder, and gave them a license to download and retain a copy of each image.
On July 1st the couple downloaded 10 photos from the bridal shower, on July 15th they downloaded 5 photos from the bachelor party, and on July 31st they downloaded all but one of the photos from the wedding day. The couple never shared the photos with anyone else.
All of the photos were published when John made them available for distribution to the couple in the password-protected folder:
o The 100 photos from the bridal shower were published when they were made available for distribution on April 1st.
o The 50 photos from the bachelor party were published when they were made available for distribution on May 1st.
o The 600 photos from the wedding day were published when they were made available for distribution on June 1st.
The fact that the couple actually downloaded 10 photos on July 1st, 5 photos on July 15th, and 599 photos on July 31st (and ignored the rest) is irrelevant to the publication status of these works. The fact that the couple never shared the photos with anyone else is also irrelevant.
On August 1st, John submitted an application to register these 750 photographs (together with the correct filing fee and the proper deposit copies) and stated that 100 images were published on April 1st, 50 were published on May 1st, and 600 were published on June 1st. The Office issued a group registration with an effective date of registration of August 1st.
If a third party infringed all of these photographs on July 1st, John should be able to claim statutory damages and attorney’s fees for the photos from the bachelor party and the wedding day, because those images were published on May 1st or June 1st, and they were registered less than three months later on August 1st. However, John would not be able to claim these remedies for the photos from the bridal shower, because those images were published on April 1st and registered more than three months later on August 1st.