Big Changes in Copyright Registration
by Susan Basko, esq.
Recently, there have been several really big changes in U.S. Copyright Registration.
The first big change was brought about by a Supreme Court ruling. The law has been that to file a copyright infringement lawsuit, you had to already have registered copyright on the work you were claiming was infringed. But what did it mean to "register copyright"? Was it enough to complete the application, or did the entire registration process have to be completed? In the past, in most courts, you could simply apply for copyright registration and proceed to a lawsuit while the application was pending. Now, the Supreme Court says the registration must actually be complete. Copyright registration is a process that, at this time, is taking about a year to complete. That's right -- I recently filed some copyright applications and the info box popped up saying the current time estimate is one year-- although in the past, I have seen it at times as low as six months. Depending on the timing of things, this gap of a year's time could mean a person might not be able to meet the 3 year statute of limitations on a copyright claim.
Thus, it is more important than ever to file your applications to register copyright on your creative works as soon as possible after creation. Having your works registered promptly can often prevent the need for a lawsuit, too, because the threat of a lawsuit is then present, along with the possibility of statutory damages and/or attorney fees. There is no power or leverage in claiming a creative work as your own if you have no copyright registration to back it up; there is a great deal of power and leverage in having clear ownershihp of a registered copyright on your work. It is also important to name your works so the name given immediately and clearly identifies the work being protected. There is nothing so powerful as making your work easily searchable and identifiable in the Copyright database.
There is simply no substitute for registering copyright and now some other changes at the Copyright Office have made it easier and less expensive than ever to register your works. In the past, we could register "collections" of items. The Copyright Office meant for all items in a collection to be protected, as well as the collection itself. Some courts meddled in and interpreted collections to mean that only the collection itself was protected, and not the individual items. The response of the Copyright Office has been to create an administrative provision allowing the registration of a group of related items using one application and one application fee, but where each item in the group will be specifically registered. The registration forms ask for information on each item in the group, thus providing a more robust searchability in the database, and thus, better protection. Group registrations are the best thing to come along in Copyright in a long, long time. So let's look at what can be registered as a group at this time.
A group registration allows registration of UP TO 10 UNPUBLISHED WORKS by the same author or authors and all of the authors must also be the copyright claimants. All 10 works must be in the same category and all must be making the same claim. The application must be made online on the US Copyright website, and digital copies of the works must be uploaded.
The copyright office also has new rules allowing group registration for UP TO 750 PUBLISHED PHOTOGRAPHS. That's right -- seven hundred fifty photographs are given copyright protection for one small fee. This is amazing protection for just pennies a picture. The photos must all be by the same author, all from the same calendar year, all must be published, the copyright claimants must all be the same, a digital copy of each photo must be uploaded, and a list of each photograph and its info must be made using a template provided by the Copyright Office. This is an incredible bargain in allowing up to 750 photos to be registered for one fee. Similarly, a group of UP TO 750 UNPUBLISHED PHOTOGRAPHS may also be registered, using similar guidelines, but the set must all be unpublished.
In addition, the Copyright Office is proposing a rule that will allow a group registration of up to 50 short online literary works that were authored within a 3 calendar month period, all with one application and one registration fee. If this rule comes into practice, it would be useful for "poems, short stories, articles, essays, columns, blog entries, and social media posts." If this rule goes into effect, it will probably be implemented in late 2019 or in 2020.
With these new Group registrations, there simply is no excuse to not protect your valuable creative works with Copyright registration.