What is the FOIA?

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. § 552, was enacted for the purpose of allowing private citizens greater access to government information. FOIA sets standards for establishing the public’s right to request existing records from Federal government agencies.

What is a “record”?

FOIA requests can only be made for “agency records.” The Supreme court has defined “agency records” as documents which are (1) either created or obtained by an agency, and (2) under agency control at the time of the FOIA request. A record is the product of data compilation, such as books, papers, maps, and photographs, machine-readable materials (including those in electronic format), or other documentary materials, regardless of physical form or characteristics, created or obtained by an agency of the U.S. government under Federal law in connection with the transaction of public business and in agency possession and control at the time the FOIA request is made.

What records does the Copyright Office maintain?

The Copyright Office is an office of record, a place where claims to copyright are registered and where documents relating to copyright may be recorded when the requirements of the copyright law are met. The Copyright Office maintains these records as well as materials deposited with applications for registration (e.g., a copy of the work), records relating to the application process (e.g., correspondence between the Copyright Office and the applicant regarding the application or deposit); recorded documents (e.g., copyright assignments), records relating to the statutory licensing of copyrighted works (e.g., statements of account), and other records regarding the Office’s general operations. Not all of these types of records exist for each registered work, and the Copyright Office maintains some records only for a limited time. The Office also creates and maintains numerous information circulars, which explain selected provisions of copyright law and procedures. These documents are available on the Copyright Office web site at: http://www.copyright.gov.

Can I obtain documents without filing a FOIA request?

The Copyright Office makes a vast quantity of records publicly available without requiring an individual to file a FOIA request, including on the Copyright Office web site at: http://www.copyright.gov. Records relating to copyright registrations, are already available for public inspection, in accordance with sections 705 and 706 of Title 17, United States Code (U.S.C.) and section 201.2 of Title 37, Code of Federal Regulations (C.F.R.). Most records may be copied for a fee.

The Copyright Office will not make copies of registered deposit material, however, unless authorized by the copyright claimant or for other specified reasons related to litigation activity, which requires the use of a prescribed original form available from the Records Research and Certification section. Requests for inspection, copying or certification of registration records should be directed to the Records, Research and Certification Section, U.S. Copyright Office, 101 Independence Avenue, SE, Washington, DC 20559-6000; Tel: (202) 707-6787; Fax: (202) 252-3519; Email: copycerts@loc.gov.

If you need to locate information about a registration, rather than viewing the actual registration itself, you may search copyright registrations and documents cataloged from 1978 onward for free by using the Copyright Office’s website http://www.copyright.gov/records or by visiting our Washington, D.C., facility in person. Alternatively, you may request the Copyright Office to perform a search for you for a fee by contacting the Records, Research and Certification Section, U.S. Copyright Office, 101 Independence Avenue, SE, Washington, DC 20559-6000; Tel: (202) 707-6850; Fax: (202) 252-3485; Email: copysearch@loc.gov.

How do I submit a FOIA request?

The Copyright Office's FOIA Requester Service Center is responsible for processing all initial requests submitted pursuant to the FOIA. All initial requests must be in writing and sent by mail to: FOIA Requester Service Center Copyright Office GC/I&R P.O. Box 70400 Washington, DC 20024

To facilitate a prompt response, the request should be: 1. clearly marked "Freedom of Information Act Request." 2. identify the records requested (be as specific as possible, i.e., describe the subject matter of the records, and, if known, indicate the dates of the records, the places where they originated, and the names of the originating persons or offices); 3. state that the records are requested under the Freedom of Information Act; and 4. include a daytime telephone number and/or email address in case additional information is needed before answering requests.

How long will it take to respond to my request?

FOIA allows the government up to 20-working days to determine whether the records may be released. Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays are not counted as work days. FOIA also authorizes the government to take an additional 10 working days under certain circumstances. After a determination is made to release records, copies will be provided as expeditiously as possible.

If your request is so complex or voluminous that it would be unreasonable to expect the government to be able to respond within 30 days, the FOIA requires that you be given an opportunity to reduce the scope of your request or develop a reasonable compromise as to when the government must respond.

Should I submit a FOIA request to the Copyright Office for records that are maintained by the Library of Congress?

No. Although the Copyright Office is a service unit of the Library of Congress, these two entities function separately with respect to the FOIA. The Copyright Office is subject to the FOIA and the Privacy Act because the Copyright Act itself so provides. This provision does not, however, apply to the Library of Congress, which has developed its own procedures for responding to requests for information and access to its records. Requests for records maintained by the Library of Congress should be directed to:

Chief, Office Systems Services (OSS), Library of Congress 101 Independence Avenue, S.E. Washington, DC 20540-9440

Are all records accessible under the FOIA?

No. It is the policy of the agency to make records available to the public to the greatest extent possible, in keeping with the spirit of the FOIA, while at the same time protecting sensitive information. The following is a list of FOIA exemptions which permit the Government to withhold certain records in accordance with 5 U.S.C. 552(b):

EXEMPTION (b)(1) Classified secret matters or national defense or foreign policy. This exemption protects from disclosure national security information concerning the national defense or foreign policy, provided that it has been properly classified in accordance with the substantive and procedural requirements of an executive order.

EXEMPTION (b)(2) Internal Personnel Rules and Practices. This exempts from mandatory disclosure records "related solely to the internal personnel rules and practices of an agency." Courts have interpreted the exemption to encompass two distinct categories of information: (a) internal matters of a relatively trivial nature--sometimes referred to as "low2" information; and (b) more substantial internal matters, the disclosure of which would risk circumvention of a legal requirement--sometimes referred to as "high 2" information.

EXEMPTION (b)(3) Information Specifically Exempted by Other Status. This exemption incorporates the disclosure prohibitions that are contained in various other federal statutes. As originally enacted in 1966, Exemption 3 was broadly phrased so as to simply cover information "specifically exempted from disclosure by statute." The new (b)(3) statute prohibits agencies from releasing under the FOIA any proposal "submitted by a contractor in response to the requirements of a solicitation for a competitive proposals," unless that proposal "is set forth or incorporated by reference in a contract entered into between the agency and the contractor that submitted the proposal."

EXEMPTION (b)(4) Trade Secrets, Commercial or Financial Information. This exemption protects (1) trade secrets and (2) information which is (a) commercial or financial, (b) obtained obtained from a person and (c) privileged or confidential. This exemption applies only to information submitted from outside the government. Information which has been voluntarily submitted is confidential if it constitutes information which the submitter would not customarily make available to the public. Information which has been compelled to be submitted is confidential if disclosure is likely to: 1) impair the government's ability to obtain necessary information in the future or 2) cause substantial harm to the competitive position of the person from whom the information was obtained.

EXEMPTION (b)(5) Privileged Interagency or Intra-Agency Memoranda or Letters. This exemption protects internal Federal government documents which are both predecisional and deliberative. In addition, the attorney work-product privilege and the attorney-client privilege have been incorporated into this exemption.

EXEMPTION (b)(6) Personal Information Affecting an Individual's Privacy. This exemption permits the government to withhold all information about individuals in "personnel and medical files and similar files" when the disclosure of such information "would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy." This exemption cannot be invoked to withhold from a requester information pertaining to the requester.

EXEMPTION (b)(7) Investigatory Records Compiled for Law Enforcement Purposes. As amended, this exemption protects from disclosure "records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes."

How do I appeal the denial of records?

FOIA requesters may appeal the denial of records within 30 calendar days of the date of the response from the agency. For appeals, requesters: 1. Shall state the reasons why the requested information should be released under the Act; and why the denial may be in error; and, 2. Should attach copies of their original requests and response letters to all appeals, clearly mark the letter and the outside envelop, "FOIA Appeal," and mail appeals to the following address:

FOIA Requester Service Center Copyright Office GC/I&R P.O. Box 70400 Washington, DC 20024

How can I check on the status of my request?

The FOIA Requester Service Center is the first place that a FOIA requester should contact to seek information concerning the status of a FOIA request and appropriate information about the Copyright Office’s FOIA response. The Center can be reached at (202) 707-6800. FOIA requesters can subsequently raise any concerns about the service they received from the Center to the FOIA Public Liaison.

Where can I get more information about FOIA?

Additional information regarding may be found on the Copyright Office web site at: http://www.copyright.gov/foia.