NWU Wins Cheaper, Easier Copyright Registration for Online Writing

In response to a proposal initiated by the NWU almost four years ago, and later endorsed by nine other national organizations of writers, the U.S. Copyright Office today issued new regulations that will allow a writer to register copyright in up to 50 short-form works published on one or more websites or online platforms within a three-month period for a single $65 fee and with a single application form.

The new rules will greatly reduce the cost and clerical burden of registering copyright in short-form works published online, including on blogs, other websites, and social media.

Until now, a separate application form and fee has been required for each written work — such as a blog or social media post, article, or short story — first published online on a separate date. A daily blogger, for example, has to to pay $65 and fill, out and submit a separate application form to register each day’s posts.

The new group registration option will make an especially big difference in the feasibility of registering copyright for online journalists, short story and flash-fiction writers who publish regularly on the same sites or platforms, and other regular contributors to website content, as well as less-than-daily long-form bloggers and social media posters.

The new rules will take effect in August 2020, when the Copyright Office deploys its new online copyright registration portal.

As the notice published today in the Federal Register explains:

This rulemaking was initiated in response to a petition jointly submitted by the National Writers Union (‘‘NWU’’), the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc. (‘‘SFWA’’), and the Horror Writers Association, requesting a rulemaking to create a new group registration option to accommodate works distributed online by individual writers, that would not qualify as contributions to periodicals. The petition requested that the [Copyright] Office create a new group registration procedure for ‘‘short-form works’’ which would allow individual writers to submit one ‘‘application and fee every three months.’’ The Authors Guild, the Association of Garden Communicators, the Society of Children’s Book Authors and Illustrators, the Songwriters Guild of America, and the Textbook & Academic Authors Association endorsed this petition. They stated that writers ‘‘urgently need a group registration [option] for short pieces, especially those disseminated online,’’ including ‘‘blogs, public Facebook posts . . ., short articles, and even copyrightable tweets.’’

In September 2018, when no action had been taken by the Copyright Office, we met with Copyright Office staff to plead our case in person. The Copyright Office finally acted on our petition in December 2018 by publishing a draft of new regulations for public comment. Today the Copyright Office made its proposed rules final, with only minor changes.

The new rules don’t go as far as we would like, but are a substantial improvement. We had asked that a writer be allowed to register up to 500 works by the same author published on one or more Web sites, to cover daily bloggers and writers who post on multiple social media platforms. The Copyright Office decided to limit group registration to a maximum of 50 works published on a single website or online platform. But being able to register 50 works published within three months per application is much better than being able to register only one day’s work at a time.

With the new group registration option for up to 50 works, the annual cost of registering copyright in the written content of a blog with daily postings, for example, will be reduced from $23,725 for 365 daily applications for copyright registration to $520 for eight group applications. That’s still prohibitively costly for many bloggers or social media posters. It’s still a clear violation of the Berne Convention copyright treaty, which prohibits all “formalities” for copyright protection such as registration requirements.

The NWU has long argued, and will continue to advocate, that the registration requirements in the U.S. Copyright Act should be repealed entirely. In the meantime, today’s action by the Copyright Office in response to our petition is the most significant reduction in the burden of copyright registration in many years.

We thank the Copyright Office for today’s action, as we thank all of the many genres and organizations of writers and phtographers who joined voices to persuade the Copyright Office to act on our joint petition.