Overview of the Copyright Office
The United States Copyright Office and the position of Register of Copyrights were created by Congress in 1897. The Register directs the Copyright Office as a separate federal department within the Library of Congress, under the general oversight of the Librarian, pursuant to specific statutory authorities set forth in the United States Copyright Act. Earlier in the nation’s history, from 1870 to 1896, the Librarian of Congress administered copyright registration (at that time mostly books) directly, and earlier still, from 1790 to 1896, U.S. district courts were responsible for doing so. Today, the Copyright Office is responsible for administering a complex and dynamic set of laws, which include registration, the recordation of title and licenses, a number of statutory licensing provisions, and other aspects of the 1976 Copyright Act and the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act. By statute, the Register of Copyrights is the principal advisor to Congress on national and international copyright matters, testifying upon request and providing ongoing leadership and impartial expertise on copyright law and policy.
Congress relies upon and directs the Copyright Office to provide critical law and policy services, including domestic and international policy analysis, legislative support for Congress, litigation support, assistance to courts and executive branch agencies, participation on U.S. delegations to international meetings, and public information and education programs. The past few years have been particularly active, as Copyright Office lawyers assisted Congress with copyright review hearings and prepared numerous timely reports, including for example, Revising Section 108: Copyright Exceptions for Libraries and Archives, Section 1201 Study, The Making Available Right in the United States, and Software-Enabled Consumer Products.
The Office provided support to Congress for two pieces of copyright legislation signed into law in October 2018. The Orrin G. Hatch-Bob Goodlatte Music Modernization Act is one of the most significant legislative reforms to United States copyright law in two decades. The Office had long advocated for a blanket licensing system such as this act, and multiple Registers of Copyright have testified before Congress about the need to modernize our music licensing laws. The Office conducted a comprehensive study of the music licensing framework as well as the ever-evolving needs of those who create and invest in music in the twenty-first century, which resulted in a report titled “Copyright and the Music Marketplace.” The Office is involved in implementing this new law and has commenced necessary rulemakings.
The Office also provided support for the signing of The Marrakesh Treaty Implementation Act, which makes available works in accessible formats. While the United States signed the Marrakesh Treaty as a contracting party in 2013, Congress needed to take additional steps to amend its national legislation before becoming a treaty member. The Office provided input to Congress while it consulted with various stakeholders, including those representing the blind communities, the publishing sector, and the library community.
As of late 2018, the Copyright Office has approximately 400 employees, the majority of whom examine and register hundreds of thousands of copyright claims in books, journals, music, movies, sound recordings, software, photographs, and other works of original authorship each year. In fiscal 2018, the Office received 520,086 claims, issued more than 560,000 registrations, received 96 percent of claims via our online application system, and collected more than $38 million in fees from registration. The Office also acts as a conduit for the Library, providing certain works of authorship, known as copyright deposits, to the Library for its collections. In fiscal 2018, the Office forwarded more than 736,000 works, worth a net value of $47.5 million, to the Library. During calendar year 2018, the Office collected more than $213 million in royalty payments from compulsory and statutory licenses under sections 111, 119, and 1003.
In recent years, the Office has taken steps, through a set of public discussions, to propose ways to modernize the Copyright Office by examining relationships between the law, regulations, registration practices, technology, access to data, and the evolving copyright marketplace. In January 2018, the Office established the Copyright Modernization Office, which developed and began implementing an Office-wide modernization plan. The Office is building a new, web-based, cloud-hosted Enterprise Copyright System, which will provide a more user-friendly platform for the public to file applications and transfers of ownership, will include improved functionality to allow better information flow between the Office and the public, and will be flexible enough to allow the Office to continue to update its technology to take advantage of future advancements.
Finally, the Copyright Office works regularly with the Department of Justice, the Department of State, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the Department of Commerce, including the Patent and Trademark Office and the Office of the Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator.