Saturday, July 12, 2008

It's All About the Bar Codes at the New Electronic Copyright Office

A couple months back, I noticed that the U.S. Copyright Office was testing online registration for basic forms. At the time, I had no idea how serious those copyright folks were about using technology to streamline the copyright registration process.

As of July 1st, forms TX (literary works), VA (visual arts), PA (performing arts), SR (sound recordings), and SE (single serials) are no longer available for download on the Copyright Office's website, which tells me that they are pushing the electronic registration system (online registration and a new super-form, discussed below) as the primary method for registration.

What does this mean for copyright registrants? Ever the amateur analyst, I've devised three categories of copyright registrants and their options for registration.

For early adapters who wish to file a basic claim

To register many of the most common types of works, users can now go completely digital using the eCO system I mentioned in a previous post. The works that qualify for the online system are those featuring what are called basic claims, meaning "
literary works, visual arts works, performing arts works, sound recordings, motion pictures, and single serial issues." You know, the artsy stuff.

I suspect that one of the reasons the Copyright Office is only now rolling out online registration is that they had to figure out a way to meet the deposit requirement. Title 17 of U.S. Code, the law that establishes U.S. copyright, requires a copyright owner to hand over copies of a published work to the Library of Congress. This requirement has worked its way into the Copyright Office's policies to include any work to be registered, published or not.

Deposit of a hard copy is still required for most works, but it is still recommended that registrants file their claims online. During the online filing process, the system will generate a shipping label that the registrant can attach to the package that they will use to mail their deposit.

For some types of works, including unpublished works and electronic-only works, an online deposit is sufficient. In either case, the fees are reduced to $35 to reflect the reduction in man-hours required to process registrations.

For those who respect the efficiency of the computer-based application but still consider the tactile experience essential to registering copyright

The Copyright Office has developed a new form, called form CO, that can be used to register literary works, performing arts works, visual arts works, motion picture works, audiovisual works, sound recording, and single serial issues.

This new super-form generates bar codes as you type, which means that an application can be read by a machine for faster processing. I tried one out and was very amused. Using this method to file still costs $45, but I'm guessing it will greatly speed up the registration process, plus it takes the guess work out of choosing a form. Form CO can be used in place of forms TX, VA, PA, SR, and SE, and is the only form currently available for download at the Copyright Office website.

For the traditionalists

If you aren't ready to give up filing by hand, you don't have to worry yet: you can still get the forms, though you can no longer download them directly from the Copyright Office's website. If you fill out the electronic form linked above, they'll send you copies of the forms. We'll also keep the forms in stock here at the Government Information Center for as long as they'll keep sending them to us. There are still several types of works that must be registered using the paper forms, so logic tells me that the forms will be around for at least as long as that requirement is in place. The cost for paper registration will remain $45.

If you're still a little fuzzy about registration, check out the classic Copyright Office Circular Number 1, "Copyright Basics." As always, please feel free to get in touch with us at the Government Information Center if you'd like help figuring out your registration needs.

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