Copyright Office opens Web portal for online registrations

The U.S. Copyright Office is opening a new online portal intended to help the office move from a paper-based environment to electronic processing.

The office, a part of the Library of Congress, handles about 550,000 copyright claims annually. Beginning July 1, anyone will be able to use the Electronic Copyright Office (eCO) portal to submit basic claims and copyright applications electronically, make online payments and upload works being registered. Those submitting hard copies of the registered material can generate and print shipping labels.

This is the second phase of a major business process re-engineering effort the Copyright Office began about eight years ago. The eCO portal is the front end of a complete reorganization of the office that has included moving to new space in the library's Madison Building in Washington, reorganizing the staff, and changing work flow and processing for claims, said David Christopher, the office's associate chief operating officer.

Advantages for users of the online system include a $10 savings on the filing fee, faster processing time, an earlier effective registration date, online status tracking, ease of payment and direct upload of copyrighted material.

Under provisions of the Berne Convention on Copyrights, which the United States now recognizes, works do not have to be registered with the office to receive copyright protection,.

'In the [United States], though, we recommend registration,' Christopher said. Registration establishes a public record of the copyright so potential users of the material can identify and locate owners. 'We see it as an opportunity' for copyright holders, he said. Registration also makes copyright holders eligible to receive statutory damages and attorney's fees in cases of violation, and courts recognize registration as prima facie evidence that the material is protected.

The office's online efforts began about 10 years ago when it established a portal for a small group of frequent users such as publishers. In 2005, a new type of preregistration copyright protection was created for a class of products, such as movies and music recordings, that are especially likely to be exploited before publication. Preregistration protects these creations before publication or creation of the finished product.

'We required preregistration to be filed electronically' on the portal that now is being used for eCO, Christopher said. 'We looked at it as a pilot for eCO.'

A small group of registrants began using eCO as a beta test for basic claims in July 2007, and a larger number of users gradually were invited in. Although eCO is not being officially launched until next week, 'for the last couple of months, it essentially has been open to anybody,' Christopher said.

The office was a little surprised at who the primary users of the online services have been. 'We have a bifurcated customer base,' Christopher said. About half of the registrations are published works, many of them registered by publishers and other large companies. The other half are unpublished works from screenplays to photographs, many registered by individuals.

'When we announced the beta process, we lowered the price' from $45 for paper registration to $35 for online to entice users. 'It's cheaper for us to process electronically,' Christopher said. The office expected most of the online customers to be large organizations, but most have been individuals. 'We found that the price reduction is very much an inducement to the private person.' It might cost a large corporation, such as Warner Bros., more than $10 per registration to rework its business process for filing applications.

The portal now handles what the Copyright Office calls basic claims, which cover literary works; visual arts; and performing arts such as motion pictures, sound recordings and single serials. Basic claims account for about 95 percent of registrations. Other types of claims, such as renewals, corrections and amplifications, and even 3-D representations of silicon chips, eventually will be added to the portal.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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