Full federal protection (including the right to sue for infringement) is granted to the creator for all works registered with the U. S. Copyright Office. For works originally copyrighted on or after January 1, 1978, the period of protection is the life of the author plus 50 years.
So why should you go to the trouble and expense of registering your copyright if you are protected automatically? The truth of the matter is without registration of your copyright, any award you receive in a court action for infringement will be limited to only the damages you can prove. You may find yourself faced with an infringer who didn’t make a profit from the unauthorized use of your photography, and you can’t prove the damages you suffered. Lost potential profits, from future sales of the print or other uses contemplated, are frequently quite difficult to prove in court.
With proper registration of a copyright, you are eligible for consideration by the court of punitive damages, in addition to actual financial loss you can prove as well as attorneys fees. These “statutory” damages can be as high as $50,000 and form the carrot on the stick that encourages you to take that extra step and register your images. This higher level of insurance protection is only offered in return for a properly registered image and is a bona fide bargain; it only costs a few dollars to register one image —- or if you register 10 works in a series on one application, it still costs only a few dollars ranging from $10 – $25.
Copyright laws as described here apply only to the 50 United States, the District of Columbia and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and the organized territories under the jurisdiction of the United States Government.