It seems everywhere we turn we come across a story in which the current US government shutdown is causing headaches for photographers in unusual ways. From the closure of wedding venues in National Parks to the difficulties with passport services for traveling photographers – the list seems to grow by the day.


The US Copyright Office is yet another one of those “non-essential governmental operations” that is affected by the current shutdown. People can still file their copyrights online, but they will not be processed, nor will the registration take effect until after the offices re-open (whenever that may be).

So what does this mean for photographers and artistic professionals?

What This May Mean for You

As professional photographers, we are dependent on the ability to control the reproduction of the images we generate for our clients.

Reproducing photos without permission is illegal, however, with the department closed, individuals have limited access to anything searchable on the website. I tried to open several links myself, and was always diverted back to the “Close Warning” instead of the material I was hoping to find. It would appear that if you want information on anything that may have been registered with the department, or your own files, you are going to wait with the rest of the nation as this, and other government entities, remain closed.

Copyright Basics

“Copyright” refers to the rights given to creators for their literary and artistic works, otherwise known as “Intellectual Property”.

Copyright is a property right.

Some artists prefer to use Creative Commons Licensing, which is handled separately from copyright registration.

Under the Federal Copyright Act of 1976, photographs are protected by copyright from the moment of creation. Photographers have the exclusive right to reproduce their photographs.

Unless an individual has obtained permission from the original photographer, a client cannot copy, publicly display (that means online as well), distribute (no scanning and forwarding), or create any other kind of derivative work from the photographs. Many photographers will actually register certain projects or client work to ensure the protection of their intellectual property.

A photographer can easily create thousands of separate pieces of intellectual property annually. Not all works are registered, however some projects, as well as commercial material are registered with the US Copyright Office. Therein lies the current conundrum.

So What Now?

During this time, if you are a professional that uses Copyright Registration, you may want to consider Creative Commons as an alternative until regular operations is back up and running. There is no registration to use the CC licenses and it will provide some security in the interim. If you prefer to register with the US Copyright Office, you can still file copyrights online by following this link (the only one I could find that was still working).

To learn more about Creative Commons and how it works, check out Decoding the Creative Commons Licensing & Copyright Mystery.

Until Next Time . . .

Stay Inspired ~ Jules