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How to Register Copyright and Track Your Images from Inside Adobe Lightroom

This post is part of a series called Freelance Photography.
Understanding Copyright and Licensing for Photography
How to Land Jobs Assisting a Photographer and Keep Them

Before we begin, I want to make it clear that I am not a lawyer. This article provides general information about some legal matters, but the information is not legal advice and should not be treated as an alternative to advice from a legal professional. However, all that said, you don't have to be a lawyer to take preventative steps to protect your images, and that's what this article is about.

The Importance of Copyright

Copyright can be confusing for all artists, including photographers. Some countries make copyright more confusing than others; the United States is generally more challenging than most. However, there is one basic principle that grounds copyright law in almost all jurisdictions: the person who creates the original piece of art—photographs, in our case—has copyright in the created work. Because you've pressed the shutter release and captured a moment, you hold the copyright to the photograph. That means that you have the right to decide what others can do with your photographs and under what terms.

Despite holding copyright in your photographs, you may still face legal hurdles to recover damages should someone infringe your copyright and use your image illegally. In the United States, it's much easier to make your copyright claim if you register your images with the United States Copyright Office (USCO). To be effective, you must register your images with the USCO within three months after the first date of publishing the image. By registering your images, you are able to pursue legal action to reclaim damages and costs if someone illegally uses your photographs. You can register your images online with the USCO's eCO service. The fee to register an image online is US $35 per image.

Outside the United States, copyright is typically a little more straightforward and doesn't require registration. Simply capturing the image and being able to prove that you captured the image (for example, by being able to produce the original image) normally guarantees you the right to enforce your copyright.

However, beware that some jurisdictions (including Canada until 2012) assign copyright to the party who commissioned the artwork, not the person who made it. In other words, in some countries it's the client, not the photographer, who automatically owns copyright of the pictures. If this is the case in your area, you'll need to use a licensing agreement to protect your copyright.

USCO Website
Registering an image with the United States Copyright Office involves using the USCO eCO system to submit the copyright registration. The purpose takes several steps. In this tutorial, you'll learn to use ImageRights to automate this process.

Meet ImageRights

ImageRights is a service with two key purposes: discovery of infringing uses of your images, and simplifying the copyright process. In the discovery process, ImageRights scours the web for websites as well as printed publications that may be using your images. As part of the discovery process, ImageRights also helps you recover damages by working with legal partners to negotiate compensation for uses of your photo without a prior agreement.

The purpose of this tutorial is to walk you through using ImageRights for either of these purposes. I'll show you how to submit images to ImageRights for Discovery as well as use the service to simplify copyrighting your images.

ImageRights Dashboard
The ImageRights dashboard is used to manage the status of infringing image uses. I submitted 4 images to the service, which ImageRights used to search for websites and printed publications that might be using my images without permission. 

One thing that's important to note is that through its network of international legal partners, ImageRights can help photographers in all countries pursue claims, not just the United States. Let's take a look at how to use ImageRights with the Adobe Lightroom plugin.

Install the ImageRights Plugin

ImageRights offers a Lightroom plugin to make using their service much simpler and more integrated in our workflow. After you've created an ImageRights account on the official website, logging in will bring you to the ImageRights dashboard. An ImageRights account is free to get started with, although using the service for copyrighting images is a paid process. The ImageRights dashboard is the hub for the service, where you can review potential infringement of your photos.

It's also where you can download the ImageRights plugin for Adobe Lightroom. To get started, download the plugin and save it somewhere that's easy to find. The plugin comes in a zip file, so extract it from the zip file after downloading and put it somewhere you can access it easily and where it can remain, as it cannot be moved without breaking in Lightroom.

After you've extracted the plugin, go ahead and launch Adobe Lightroom. Access the File > Plug-In Manager menu option to launch the plugin installer.

Lightroom Plug-in Manager
The Lightroom Plug-in Manager is accessed from the File > Plug-in Manager menu. On the window that pops up, you'll need to press Add to browse to the Lightroom plugin.

On the next menu, click the add button in the lower left corner of the window. You'll need to browse to where the plugin is stored. Find the ImageRights.lrplugin file and and choose to add it.

Lightroom Plug-in
On the window that pops up, you'll need to browse to where the ImageRights plugin is stored and add it. Make sure and leave the plugin in the same folder after installing it.

Voila! That's it, you've installed the plugin. Now, let's learn how to use it.

Connect the ImageRights Plugin

After you've installed the ImageRights plugin, you'll need to connect it to your account. In the Library module in the Publishing Services panel, you'll notice that the ImageRights option is now showing. To configuring it, right-click (Control-click on Mac) on it and choose Edit Settings.

ImageRights Publishing Service
The ImageRights option shows up in the Publishing Services panel. To configure it, we need to control click on it and choose Edit Settings.

On the next screen, you'll connect the plugin to your ImageRights account so that Lightroom can send images directly to the service. Input your ImageRights credentials and choose Verify Connection to ImageRights. If your credentials are correct, you'll receive a message and be connected to the service.

ImageRights credentials
To finish up configuring the ImageRights plugin, input your email and password and choose "Verify Connection to ImageRights." The plugin will give you a message that you've correctly connected to the services, and you're now ready to use the plugin.

Once we've connected Lightroom to ImageRights, let's send some images to the service to allow ImageRights to begin the discovery process.

Discovery with ImageRights

As I mentioned earlier, one helpful service that ImageRights offers is the Discovery feature. Submitting images to ImageRights for discovery means that the service will search the web for uses of the image. If you determine that the image is being used improperly, you can submit it to the ImageRights team for assessment, which could ultimately lead to financial compensation. You can read more about the Recovery process here, but for now, let's send images to the Discovery service.

To send images to ImageRights for Discovery, make sure that you're working in the Library module. In the Publish Services panel on the left side of the application, find the ImageRights section. To create a new image set to send to the ImageRights discovery service, right-click (or Control-click on Mac) on the ImageRights box and choose Create Image Set.

Create Image Set
To start sending images to the ImageRights Discovery service, right click on the ImageRights box in the Publish Services panel (control + click on Mac) and choose to Create Image set.

On the next window, you'll need to give a name to the Image Set. You can just call this something simple like "Send to ImageRights". If you already have images that you want to add to it selected, leave Include selected photos ticked. Otherwise, just drag and drop images from the Library module onto the "Send to ImageRights" set we just created.

Send to ImageRights box 2
After you create a new ImageSet, it's time to set a few options. I like to give it a simple name, such as "Send to ImageRights." I already had some images selected in the Library module that I want to add, so I'll leave the "Include Selected photos" box ticked. I also like setting this as the target collection; when I'm browsing images I can just hit the letter "B" on my keyboard, and it will be added to this collection. This is great to leave enabled when you want to work through your images quickly.

Alright, so we're finally ready to send the images to ImageRights. Once we've added the images we want to upload to ImageRights for Discovery, again right click (Control-click on Mac) on the Image Collection we created in the ImageRights list. Go ahead and choose Publish Now. This will start the upload process.

Publish now
You'll need to select "Publish Now" by right clicking (control + click on Mac) to begin the upload.
Upload in Progress
Once the upload begins, you'll see the progress shown in the Library module. Images will gradually move from the "New Photos to Publish" section to the "Published Photos" section as the upload completes.

Once the upload is completed, the images are now viewable in your ImageRights dashboard. The service will begin searching the web and printed publications for potentially infringing uses of your images. 

ImageRights Dashboard
On the ImageRights dashboard, I've found the images we just uploaded from Lightroom. They're now being actively searched out and monitored by ImageRights for potentially infringing uses of our images. If they are in fact being used, ImageRights will notify you via email and with a dashboard notification so that you can review how they're used.

If you add more images to your set and want to resubmit, all you need to do is return to the collection and choose Publish at the top of the window.

Publish New Images
If you add new images to your image set, select the set. You'll notice that the new images will show in the "New Photos to Publish" section. Just hit "Publish" to send these new images to ImageRights.

It's important to note at this stage that our images aren't registered with the U.S. Copyright Office simply because they're sent to ImageRights for Discovery. Another great feature that ImageRights offers is simplifying that copyright process, so let's take a look at how it handles that process.

Register Copyright for Images with ImageRights

So far, we've covered the process of submitting images to ImageRights for the discovery process. Now, let's tackle using the ImageRights plugin to expedite the copyright process.

 As mentioned earlier, the fee for copyrighting images through the United States Copyright Office starts at $35 for a single image. ImageRights' fee to register images ranges between $69 and $89 for images, depending on the published status and number of images. For detailed pricing information, check out their page on pricing. Essentially, ImageRights charges a premium for the convenience it offers in the copyright process.

To copyright an image, select an image or a series of images in the Adobe Lightroom Library module. Then, go to the File > Plug-In Extras menu and choose the Prepare USCO Registration for Selected Images option.

After selecting the prepare option, your web browser will open and walk you through completing the copyright process. You'll need to input the relevant info for submission to the USCO to verify the copyright. The interface for ImageRights is far friendlier than the USCO's eCO system, and this is one of the primary advantages.

ImageRights USCO Screen
Immediately after you choose the prepare option, your web browser will open to the ImageRights walkthrough for copyrighting your images. It's worth noting that this interface is more user friendly than the USCO's eCO system that is traditionally used to register images.

Once you've completed the process, ImageRights will see the copyright process through to completion. One great feature is that with the ImageRights plugin installed, you can monitor copyright status directly from Lightroom. To do this, you'll need to periodically download copyright status for your images by going back to the same File > Plug-in Extras and choosing Download USCO Status from ImageRights. The plugin will download all of the copyright statuses for your images.

To view that status, you'll need to select an image in the Library module. On the metadata panel, choose ImageRights from the dropdown. This window will show the latest USCO copyright status for your image.

USCO Status
In the Library module in the metadata panel, choose ImageRights from the dropdown in the upper left corner of the panel. The USCO status will show in this panel. Because I haven't completed registration, it currently shows "unknown", but it will change as ImageRights and the USCO process my image.

Great job! You've walked through copyrighting your images directly from Lightroom with help from ImageRights.

Keep Learning

In this tutorial, we looked at how to use ImageRights, a service that's designed to help you detect infringing uses of your copyrighted images, as well as the importance of copyrighting your images. I hope that your key takeaway is that protecting your images doesn't require retaining an attorney or constantly scouring the web for infringing uses.

To keep learning more about copyrighting your images, one of the best resources that I've come across is the American Society of Media Photographers' "A Copyright Primer." We recently carried a great piece on copyright on Envato Tuts+ by Marie Gardiner: "Understanding Copyright and Licensing for Photography." Another, more general, resource is Thursday Bram's "Essential Guide to Copyright for Beginner Freelancers"

If you're interested in learning more about how the ImageRights service works, make sure to check out their Recovery page for details on how they pursue image claims. They also offer several tiers of their service.

What are you doing to protect the rights of your images? Are you copyrighting? Make sure and leave a comment to let us know.

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