NWU and allies urge easier, cheaper copyright registration for online work

The NWU and National Press Photographers Association filed written comments yesterday with the US Copyright Office to create a new procedure to register multiple written works first distributed online. The intent is that the collection of works can be registered for a single fee and with a single application. This proposalwas made in response to a petition initiated by the NWU and our allies.

What does this mean, and why does it matter?

For many years, the NWU and writer organizations with which it’s allied have been lobbying the US Copyright Office to make it feasible and affordable to register copyright in work published online, including Web content, blogs, and posts on social media platforms.

Timely copyright registration of each written work is a prerequisite for being eligible to collect statutory damages or recover legal fees in any copyright-infringement lawsuit. Currently the cost to protect a copyright through the courts is typically so high that few writers can afford to go pursue it.

This means that prohibitively time-consuming registration procedures and exorbitant registration fees for certain types of writing effectively deny writers legal redress for infringement of their copyrights.

Currently, registering a copyright for a website or blog with daily postings or updates requires filling out 365 registration forms (one for a new article or update published on each date) to the tune of $20,075 a year. As a result, almost no self-published blog or website is registered, which leaves these unregistered online works vulnerable to piracy with de facto impunity.

The Copyright Office proposal would create a simpler (but still burdensome) and cheaper (although still costly) “group registration” option for multiple written works by the same author whose work is first distributed online.

In our comments, we thank the Copyright Office for its action, but suggest small changes that could cut the proposed fee in half; reduce the ambiguity as to which works could be registered through this new procedure; and allow more works (such as those more or less simultaneously published both in print and online) to be included.

We also urge the Copyright Office to act on the other half of our two-part petition, which asks for the creation of a similar group registration option for multiple written works first published in non-periodical print formats.

And we endorse the related comments being submitted by the Authors Guild and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA).

The next step in the process will be for the Copyright Office to consider the comments on the proposed rule, and issue a “final rule” putting the new group registration option into effect.