FOIA FAQs


What is 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 that, among other things, registers qualifying copyright claims and records documents relating to copyright. The Office maintains these records and other records relating to Office services. These include materials in connection with the registration applications process (such as a copy of the work or correspondence between the Office and an applicant), recorded documents (such as copyright assignments), records relating to the statutory licensing of copyrighted works (such as statements of account), and other records regarding the Office’s general operations. The Office maintains some records only for a limited time.


The Office also creates and maintains a variety of records related to its statutory duty as an authority on copyright law, including the Compendium of U.S. Copyright Office Practices, informational Circulars, and policy studies. These documents are available on the Copyright Office website at copyright.gov.


How do I get registration and recordation information?

Do not submit a FOIA request for specific registration or recordation records. The Copyright Office makes its registration and recordation records available to the public through the Office’s statutory authority under the Copyright Act rather than FOIA. If you need a search or copies of those records, contact our Records Research and Certification Section.


In addition, information about registrations and recordations are available through the public catalog (for registrations and documents cataloged from 1978 onward) and Virtual Card Catalog (for registrations and documents cataloged prior to 1978).


Can I get documents without filing a FOIA request?

Yes, the Copyright Office makes a vast quantity of records publicly available through copyright.gov, including:


To conduct an on-site inspection and search, visit the U.S. Copyright Office at 101 Independence Ave. SE, Washington DC, 20559, during normal operating hours, 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. eastern time, Monday through, except federal holidays.


How do I submit a FOIA request?

The Copyright Office’s FOIA Requester Service Center is responsible for processing all initial requests and appeals. You can submit your request to [email protected].


While email is preferred you can also submit your request to

FOIA Requester Service Center
PIE
PO Box 70400
Washington, DC 20024

Please mark on the envelope “Freedom of Information Act Request.”


A complete FOIA request contains:

  • Name of the requester
  • Contact information, such as an email address, daytime telephone number, or fax number, in case the FOIA Requester Service Center needs additional information to process the request
  • A well-described request for records, meaning that the Copyright Office can identify the records requested by any process that is not unreasonably burdensome or disruptive to Office operations. If the request is not well-described, the Office may contact you to clarify, which will delay processing.

How long will it take to respond to my request?

The Copyright Office is required to respond to your request within twenty working days of receiving your request. Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays are not counted as work days. In certain circumstances, FOIA authorizes the Office to take an additional ten working days. If the request is so complex or voluminous that it would be unreasonable for the Office to be able to respond within a total of thirty working days, we will notify you with an estimated timeframe and an opportunity to amend your request.


Can I submit a FOIA request to the Copyright Office for employment, personnel, or financial records?

No. These types of records a maintained by the Library of Congress and not the Copyright Office. Although the Copyright Office is a service unit of the Library of Congress, these two entities function separately with respect to FOIA. The Office is subject to 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, Records Management Division, Library of Congress, 101 Independence Avenue, SE, Washington, DC 20540-9440.


Are all records accessible under FOIA?

No. In keeping with the spirit of FOIA, the Copyright Office strives to make records available to the public to the greatest extent possible. The Office, however, can withhold certain sensitive information. The following is a list of FOIA exemptions that permit the government to withhold certain records in accordance with 5 USC § 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 if the information 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 records “related solely to the internal personnel rules and practices of an agency.” Courts have interpreted this exemption to cover two distinct categories of information: (a) internal matters of a relatively trivial nature—sometimes referred to as “low 2” 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.
  • Exemption (b)(4) Trade Secrets, Commercial or Financial Information. This exemption protects: (1) trade secrets; and (2) information that is (a) commercial or financial, (b) obtained from a person, and (c) privileged or confidential. It applies only to information submitted from outside the government. Voluntarily submitted information is confidential if it constitutes information that the submitter would not customarily make available to the public. Information that 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 that are both predecisional and deliberative. In addition, this exemption covers attorney work-product privilege and the attorney-client privilege.
  • 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.” An agency, however, cannot use this exemption to withhold from a requester information pertaining to the requester.
  • Exemption (b)(7) Investigatory Records Compiled for Law Enforcement Purposes. This exemption protects from disclosure “records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes.”

How do I appeal the Copyright Office’s denial of my request?

If you believe that the Office’s response to your FOIA request constitutes an improper denial of a valid FOIA request, you may file a written appeal. Your appeal should clearly identify the determination that you are appealing, include the assigned docket, and include a statement explaining the basis for the appeal. Submit the appeal to [email protected] or write “Freedom of Information Act Appeal” on the letter and envelope in a prominently visible manner and send it to: Register of Copyrights, U.S. Copyright Office, PO Box 70400, Washington, DC 20024. If sent by mail, you must postmark the appeal no later than ninety days after the date on the Office’s response to your request. If sent by email, the Office must receive the appeal no later than ninety days after the date on the Office’s response to your request.


At any time, you can seek dispute resolution services from the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) within the National Archives and Records Administration. You can email them at [email protected] or contact them by regular mail at the following address:


Office of Government Information Services (OGIS)
National Archives and Records
Administration
8601 Adelphi Road
College Park, MD 20740-6001


How can I check on the status or get information about my request?

You may contact the FOIA Requester Service Center at [email protected]. If the Center is unable to help, you may contact the FOIA public liaison to raise any concerns about the service you received from the Center.


Where can I get more information about FOIA?

Additional information regarding FOIA may be found at foia.gov.