Copyright Office Proposes Cheaper, Easier Copyright Registration in Response to NWU Petition

In response to a petition by a coalition of writers’ organizations, the US Copyright Office today proposed to create a new category and procedure for “group registration” of copyright in multiple “short online literary works.”

Co-signers of the petition for rulemaking which led to today’s action included:

The term “literary works” in the proposed rule is a copyright term of art meaning “text,” as distinct from photographs, illustration, audio or video. Literary works include all types of written work, fiction and non-fiction, poetry and prose, from news to novellas.

The proposal would allow a single author to register up to 50 works, published online within a 90-day period, for a single application fee of $55 (which the Copyright Office has separately proposed to increase to $75).

Today’s action by the Copyright Office is the result of a long campaign by a coalition initiated by the NWU in 2016, and a formal petition for rulemaking first submitted to the Copyright Office in January 2017.

After more than a year of inaction, we met with the Copyright Office in May 2018 to discuss our petition. In September 2018, we renewed our petition with additional co-signers, and urged the Copyright Office to act on it before raising copyright registration fees, as the Copyright Office has proposed.

Under the current rules, each day’s online updates, postings, or articles require a separate application and fee. If the proposed rules are adopted, they will reduce the cost to register copyright in a single-author website, blog, or social media feed with daily updates/postings from the current prohibitive $20,075 a year—which would increase to $27, 375 annually if the registration fee rises—down to $440 a year (or $600 if the proposed fee increase is finalized). Current costs reach into the tens of thousands and are unreasonably burdensome, but the new regulations might be more affordable for some of the most commercially successful online work.

A slight change to the proposal to increase the number of works permitted with a single application from 50 to 100 would reduce the cost of registering daily online updates or postings to $220 a year—$300 with the proposed increase. That would also reduce the administrative burden on writers from eight registration forms and submissions of copies of work per year (per Web site or social media platform) to four.

Opponents of copyrights often make false claims that copyright registration is a “simple” formality, or they assume that if writers don’t register our work, we don’t value it. We suspect that those who say this have never actually completed an application for copyright registration, or thought about how much time it takes to keep track of each item posted online or updated to a website to be able include a copy of it in an application for registration.

Under US law, if a work isn’t registered for a copyright within 90 days of first publication, the author loses the rights to recover attorney’s fees or “statutory damages,” even if they later register the work and are successful in a copyright infringement lawsuit. The NWU continues to believe that this requirement is a flagrant violation of US obligations pursuant to international copyright treaties and should be repealed.

In the meantime, we welcome any change to make registration less costly and time-consuming. We’re proud to have initiated the petition that led to today’s proposal by the Copyright Office. It’s a small but significant step.

We are pleased that so so many organizations of writers came together in support of this petition, and we hope to continue to work together with them on issues which affect our livelihoods.

The proposed rules published today in the Federal Register are open for public comment through February 19, 2019.

The NWU will be submitting comments supporting the proposed rules, but urging that the limit on the number of works included in one application for copyright be increased from 50 to at least 100, to cover daily Web updates or blog or social media postings over a 90-day period. We’ll also be asking the Copyright Office to address the second part of our petition, which concerns works published in print on multiple dates.