More Thoughts on the USCO’s Online Registration System

Back in December, I wrote a review on the new Electronic Copyright Office service (ECO) from the United States Copyright Office (USCO).

The system, which is currently in beta, drew very little praise and seemed to be plagued with problems including technical, usability and speed issues.

However, in that review, I had been unable to complete a registration due to a lack of need and uncertainties about the system, leaving the review somewhat incomplete.

Earlier this week, I got the chance to complete the process as I returned to file a registration, thus giving me the chance to walk through the payment and upload process.

Unfortunately, the new experiences with the system did nothing to improve my opinion of the service and, instead, only worsened my already sour opinion of the ECO service.

Payment

When you reach the end of your registration process, before you are allowed to upload your work, you are required to pay the $35 fee for registration.

Unfortunately, the system for filing your payment is unnecessarily complex and is confusing, even for someone who regularly purchases items on the Web.

To initiate the process, you can choose to either pay with your USCO deposit account, which requires prior setup, or with your credit card/bank account.

However, clicking the “Credit Card/ACH” button takes you to a screen with nothing but the ACH information on it. The page, which is hosted on the pay.gov Web site, a site run by the U.S. Treasury, asks for your ban account and checking information first, pushing the more familiar credit card payment off of the screen, even on larger monitors.

This resulted in an extended period of confusion trying to find the credit card form with no luck. It was only on the third try that, out of frustration, I scrolled down to find it.

However, once the information was put through, things did not improve. I was then asked to enter my email address to receive a confirmation letter of the transaction. Unfortunately, you also have to agree to a terms of service for the registration and the tick mark to agree is to the right of the “I agree” sentence, not the left.

Even if you read the text on the page very carefully, it is easy to miss the checkbox and and receive an error message when submitting the form and, even when warned of the mistake, it can be hard to locate the box.

Though these might seem like minor usability issues, they turned what should have been a two or three minutes credit card purchase into a twenty minute ordeal. In the time it took me to figure out how to pay for the registration, I likely could have filled out the Short Form TX (PDF), burned the CD and written a check.

However, the ordeal did not end there. With payment secured, I was then forced to upload the work itself. But with other reviews hinting at problems with the upload process, this was easily the part I was most worried about, especially considering that the USCO already had my money and the amount was non-refundable.

Uploading

The file I was registering was a zip file approximately 100 MB in size and contained and entire Web site with images and text. I debated, based upon information I had read, breaking the file up into two parts but decided to first try the file in one shot.

Fortunately, the process went relatively smoothly. After selecting the file and giving it a title, an upload dialog box appeared and it started to transmit the file to the service.

Of all the elements to the registration process, this was the only part that struck me as remotely modern. The dialog box updated in close to real time, provided an accurate estimate of time remaining and a good approximation of upload speed.

Through the entire process, I had upload speeds of about 67 KB per second and the file took roughly 20 minutes to upload. Though it is a respectable speed, I’ve achieved much faster uploads over IM and FTP but the process was still far from sluggish or painful.

Then, once the upload finished, I received confirmation in my “case listing”. However, the case was not “closed” or marked complete. Rather, it was marked as “open” and the claim status was changed to “pending”.

Even after everything that was done, the process is not automatic and still requires human review. before the registration is finalized.

This is, perhaps, the biggest single blow to the ECO system. that all it really is is a means to same end as the mail-in system. However, rather than mailing your form and sample works in, you get to send them electronically via clunky, error-prone interface that is slower and more confusing than its paper counterparts.

Technical Errors

Something that emerged in this use of the ECO system that was not present during my earlier experiments was a slew of server and Web page errors.

It seemed that, as I went through the system, every other page produced some variation of the “server busy” error. The other sites I was on at the time functioned well, including the main USCO Web site, and the errors seemed to be limited exclusively to anything on the ECO system that required the running of a script.

Given that the ECO system is, technically, in a private beta, this is embarrassing. If they are having issues with server load, they could, theoretically, just reduce the number of people allowed to register for the service until they get caught up.

Unfortunately, they either haven’t done that or did it too late. The system seems to be getting pounded now and, if it moves at all, it does so reluctantly.

The good news is that these slowdowns didn’t affect upload speed significantly and the errors did not cause any data loss. The system was smart enough to pick up where it left off every time.

Still, it made for more than a few “heart stopping” moments.

Conclusions

The premise of the ECO system is that, when compared to the current mail-in system, it is supposed to be faster, cheaper and more reliable. Unfortunately, it fails miserably on two out of three accounts.

Though the system will save you ten dollars plus postage on your registration, you’ll spend more time filling out the forms and put up with a very buggy system in order to make it happen. Though I’m certain later registrations will be easier for me as it should have all of my data stored, there is no excuse for making this system more complicated than the one it is supposed to replace.

However, even with that being said, I will probably find myself using the ECO system in the future, so long as the current registration goes through in a reasonable amount of time. Though I don’t register many works due to the nature of the Web, if I have to do it, this will likely be the way to go.

The reason though has nothing to do with the ECO system itself, but with issues I’ve had in recent months trying to submit deposit copies. Twice now I have had burned CDs ether be destroyed or lost by the USCO. At least with electronic registration, that is not an issue.

However, if this is the system that is supposed to bring the archaic USCO into the 21st century, it is a dismal failure. Between the dated technology that doesn’t work properly, poor usability and a sheer complexity of the process, this system only shows how out of step the USCO is with the modern world.

It is long overdue for the USCO’s place in the copyright landscape to be re-evaluated and changed. The failure of the ECO system to provide a decent registration system only serves as the nail in the coffin of that argument.

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