Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Copyright office backlog

Rumor has it there is a serious backlog at the U.S. Copyright Office right now. Registering a copyright is now taking 18 months, instead of the normal three to six. With the exception of big publishing houses who can afford to pay the expediting fee, of course.

I wonder what that means for writers who start the process to register a copyright, but then have someone steal their work before the 18 months are up? Since a work has to have a registered copyright before you can sue for copyright infringement, I'm sure this is probably going to be a problem for some people.

By the way, notice the story about the woman whose sample ad was stolen by an ad agency? That is why you don't write samples for a potential client. No matter how reputable they might seem.


Anonymous said...

Even though you didn't cover every point in the original story, I thought I should point out a few things about the Copyright Office backlog. The Office is addressing the delays and, through a combination of staffing and technology changes, is taking steps to resolve them. Unfortunately, the original Washington Post article included three areas that require clarification:

First, the Copyright Office does not have the authority to grant authors the exclusive rights to claim legal ownership of the works they create; ownership and copyright protection exists the moment a work is created and fixed in a tangible form. Accordingly, delays in registering claims filed on paper applications do not jeopardize the copyrights of authors and creators. In fact, the effective date of registration is generally the date the application, work to be registered and fee are received by the Copyright Office, not the actual date the registration process is completed. In other words, while the current volume of work in process poses an administrative inconvenience, it does not compromise the legal rights of authors. Registrants are covered under the Copyright Law the moment they create their works, and they secure the benefits of registration as of the date the work is submitted.

Second, eCO, the new online information system introduced in 2007, and the online registration system introduced in July 2008 cost $15 million, not the higher figure reported in the article, which included costs associated with the entire BPR effort. Despite budget constraints and related issues, we have finally added needed staff, and planned information technology enhancements.

Finally, our experience proves the concept that drove the BPR effort from the beginning: Electronic claims can be processed much more efficiently than paper claims. Once the post-reengineering transition period has passed and electronic filing replaces paper filing as the norm, we are confident that the Copyright Office will be more efficient than it was prior to the reengineering effort.

Matt Raymond
Communications Director
Library of Congress (home of the U.S. Copyright Office)

Katharine Swan said...

Matt, thanks for visiting! Yes, you are absolutely right, people don't have to register in order to have their rights protected by copyright. I definitely know that, and most people who read my blog probably do too, but thanks for reminding us.

However, I read all the time that you can't sue for copyright infringement -- or perhaps it is that you can't win? -- unless you have your copyright already registered. So it still seems to me that the delay is going to hurt anyone who is a victim of copyright infringement and would like to do something about it.

Anonymous said...

Good to know, since I'm registering several pieces with them next week.

Since the work is protected as soon as it's created, I'm not worried.

Poor things, with all that paperwork! I feel for them.

Katharine Swan said...

Devon, thanks for your comment. It seems everyone is misunderstanding me, though. I'm not saying the backlog means our work is not protected -- just that it'll make it difficult for someone to sue for copyright infringement as long as their registration is tied up in the system.


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