Though copyright is automatically granted to creators for their created works in the United States, the option remains to officially (and voluntarily) register those copyrights with the U.S. Copyright Office. As detailed on Copyright.gov, this registration bestows certain benefits and may, in certain circumstances, be necessary: "Before an infringement suit may be filed in court, registration is necessary for works of U.S. origin."

A recent U.S. lawsuit involving infringement may set a precedent regarding whether a copyrighted work is considered registered for the purposes of an infringement suit if the registration application is still pending.

The matter revolves around a lawsuit filed by photojournalist Matilde Gattoni against clothing retailer Tibi over its unauthorized use of her photo. According to the lawsuit, Gattoni posted one of her own photos on her Instagram; this image was taken in Morocco and her copyright registration was still pending in the U.S. Though the Instagram post included a copyright notice, the lawsuit claims Tibi cropped the image, posted the cropped portion on its own Instagram, and included only a link to Gattoni's Instagram sans copyright info.

The lawsuit aimed to hit Tibi for both a DMCA violation and copyright infringement, seeking between $2,500 and $25,000 for the alleged DMCA violation and up to $150,000 in damages for the copyright infringement.

However, things didn't quite go as Gattoni had hoped. U.S. District Court Judge Robert W. Sweet has ruled that while the case can proceed with the DMCA claim, it must do so without the copyright infringement claim due to the copyright registration's 'pending' status. Discussing this matter in particular, the court stated:

Because Gattoni has alleged only that the registration for the allegedly infringed film is pending, and because no application has been made by Gattoni to amend the Complaint if and when the Photograph became registered, Gattoni has not properly pled the pre-requisite element of a copyright infringement claim.

While some courts have accepted pending copyright registration as suitable for meeting the infringement lawsuit prerequisites, others—such as this one—have chosen to accept only a complete registration as acceptable. According to Lexology, Second Circuit federal courts have sided with the completed registration interpretation of the requirements.

Photographs can register their image copyrights with the U.S. Copyright Office through its online eCO system. Details on how to register photo copyrights in particular are offered here.