U.S. Copyright Office Creates New Registration Process for Online Authors

U.S. Copyright Office Creates New Registration Process for Online Authors Image

On June 22, the U.S. Copyright Office announced that it is creating a brand new registration process, this one aimed to help writers online that regular shorter-form content, such as blog posts, news articles and other short literary content.

This is a solution to a problem that was actually created by the U.S. Copyright Office itself. A combination of rule changes and decisions by the office made it so that blog posts published on different days can not be registered at once. This requires a separate registration for each work, drastically raising both costs and time.

This new system aims to address that by creating a new registration process, known as form GRTX, that will allow authors to bundle groups of short literary works and register them in one go. The system will launch on August 17, 2020.

The new system far from perfect and it is still very cost/time prohibitive to register large websites, such as this one. However, it is a drastic improvement and one that will enable many more creators to register their works.

That said, none of this changes the fact that the registration requirement is burdensome, disenfranchises many creators from legal remedies, needlessly delays litigation, results in legitimate copyright infringement cases being tossed, shows favoritism to non-U.S. creators and needs to be done away with.

In short, it’s an improvement (and one that only impacts a subset of creators) not a fix. Still, there are a lot of creators that should be very happy about this.

How the New System Works

The basic idea of the system is this. Currently, there is no way for most bloggers or online authors to register their works as a group. The U.S. Copyright Office does not allow group registrations of works published on different days. Under the current rules, nearly all blog posts or news articles are considered published, meaning that they would require separate registrations at $45 apiece.

That is, obviously, untenable. It’s why, back in June 2019, I calculated that it would cost $155,575 to register the entirety of this site. However, between a rise in registration fees and new articles being published, that bill would now come to $212,490 in fees alone.

The goal of the new system is to reenable group registrations for shorter literary works published online. It enables creators to register multiple literary works as long as they were all published online within the same three months.

However, there are a lot of restrictions on that registration including:

  • One can only register up to 50 works and only if they were published within 3 months of each other
  • The works must be between 50 and 17,500 words
  • The works must share the same author or group of authors
  • The author must also be the copyright claimant, no works made for hire

If your works meet those requirements, you use the new form GRTX (not the Standard Application) to register the works. You’ll be required to upload a ZIP file that contains a separate digital file for each work. You can not simply upload a single database that contains all of the posts.

The GRTX form will cost $65 to register but, ideally, one would only need to register every three months. As such, the cost per year would be just $260, much less than any of the other alternatives.

Still, the system has a LOT of limitations and is far from a perfect response to this issue.

Limitations and Challenges of the Process

This new system seems to be purpose-built for a site like Plagiarism Today. This is a one-author blog that publishes pieces most days of the week. As I demonstrated with my earlier posts, registering this site is simply not practical under the current regime. The new form GRTX will make it possible, at least moving forward.

But, even with this site, there are significant issues. The biggest is that, with my four-day-per-week posting schedule, I can post up to 96 different articles in a 12-week period. If I wanted to register everything, I would need to file two separate registrations every three months.

The other is in the way the system requests deposit copies. It would be easy to either do an RSS feed of the works involved or export to a new SQL database. Instead, each post I want to register needs to be placed in a separate digital file and zipped up. Admittedly, this is only a minor tech challenge, but it’s a tech challenge that is wholly unnecessary.

For other sites, the issues get even bigger. Do you have a collaboration site with multiple authors? You can’t use form GRTX. You have to register each author’s work separately and, even then, that only works if the author is the claimant. If any of the work is made for hire, the system is completely off-limits.

This bars many of the largest sites from participating as they are companies and their posts are written by employees.

Finally, it doesn’t help much if you have an extensive history and want to catch up on your registration. For example, this site is about to hit its 15-year-anniversary. If I did just one registration to cover each 3-month span, the total cost would be $3,900 and it still wouldn’t likely get everything.

Is this a drastic improvement over the current system? Yes. However, it excludes a large number of sites that would benefit from it, including many of the most popular ones, and doesn’t solve the problems inherent with the registration requirement.

It’s an improvement, but it’s a limited improvement for a small subset of creators.

Bottom Line

To be clear, I’m very grateful for this improved system. It will help me and others like me out greatly. For all of the complaining I do about the registration requirement this is a major step in the right direction for creators like myself that were functionally barred from registering their works.

That said, the USCO has shown once again that it is far, far behind the times when it comes to technology. Remember, they only launched electronic copyright registrations in 2008 and, even then, the system was significantly out of date. It has not been significantly updated since.

This new system addresses a type of writing that was novel nearly 20 years ago. This site alone has 15 years of history. However, even in that context, the upload requirement is out of touch with how sites are created and maintained.

While this system is an improvement, the flaws in it show just how out of touch the USCO has gotten with technology and the way content is created in 2020. They’re proposing a solution to help bloggers in a TikTok world.

Yes, blogging and short-form writing haven’t gone away (this site is proof of that) but the fact that the USCO is playing catchup to something that started decades ago is disheartening. Even when the USCO does something that is undeniably good, it shows why the registration requirement needs to be done away with.

If we’re just now addressing blogs, it will be another 20 years before Instagram and TikTok creators and streamers get the same treatment.

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