For U.S. law, see: http://www.copyright.gov/title17/92chap4.html#412
Originally Posted by Prof_Pixel
The basic rule is that for an unpublished work you may not recover statutory or attorney's fees for any infringement which occurs before the effective registration date. For a published work, you may not recover for infringement which occurs between the publication date and the effective registration date unless the copyright is registered within three months of publication.
Being the OP, it's good that the issue of the subjects of the photo also came up. In asking about fair use, I wasn't clear enough to let it be known that I meant the use of their personal images, as well as the photograph. It's important that we as photographers be aware of these issues.
Speaking as someone who has had a lot to do with these issues, I can tell you that whoever winds up culpable for this has purchased tickets to hell for all they can pay, sort of. First of all, it is an ad, not journalism. Snagging a photo you don't own for an ad is indefensible from any fair use standpoint. Regarding copyright, it exists the instant a photo is made, no claims or registration are necessary to enforce copyright, registration simply helps establish ownership in the event of a dispute. There will be little to dispute since the ad crafter did not originate the photograph nor seek to or posses releases from the subjects (separate but relevant, and also actionable). The hardest part will be actually extracting the money from a political organization, since they are notorious for being financially unreliable, even for things they have contracted for. They are around till election day, and then "poof". It's doubtful that a defendant or representative will even bother show up to court, and good luck finding someone to collect from.
Politicals are always cash on the barrelhead with me, no exceptions.
Yes, copyright is established when the image is taken. However, as I understand it, if you haven't actually physically registered the image, your damages are limited to the fair use value for that occurrence. Liability issues are separate from the copyright issue.
Originally Posted by JBrunner