Monday, May 18, 2009

Washington Post: '© 2009? Wishful Thinking, Perhaps, as Backlog Mounts'

The Washington Post has taken a look at the copyright registration process, and discovered a major backlog as the Copyright Office struggles to cope with the mountains of new registrations, both paper and electronic:

A serious logjam in the U.S. Copyright Office has created a growing mountain of paper applications, more than the staff can process. Like the marching buckets of water in "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," the envelopes just keep coming, threatening to flood the operation.

The problem has tripled the processing time for a copyright from six to 18 months, and delays are expected to get worse in coming months. The library's inspector general has warned that the backlog threatens the integrity of the U.S. copyright system.

According to the Post, much of the problem stems from a troublesome transition from paper to electronic registrations:

About 45 percent of applications are still in paper form. The staff is spending so much time handling the paper claims, it doesn't have enough time to process electronic applications, which has created delays for online claims now, too. It now takes six months to process electronic claims when it should take one month.

Of the 10,000 applications that pour into the Copyright Office each week, the staff can process about 7,000, adding 3,000 untouched applications to a growing pile that currently totals about 523,000. Workers are now handling paper applications received in late 2007.

And though electronic registration is obviously the future, it isn't exactly going smoothly:

"What the hell is the matter with that [expletive] software of yours?" one author wrote in a March 22 e-mail to the copyright agency. "I've spent more than three hours and a ton of grief trying to register my literary work and upload it. That [expletive] told me at least four times that an error had occurred and then it stopped dead. Why? Who sold you that [expletive] and why did you buy it?"

The author was trying to copyright a children's book.

Kudos to the Post for taking a look into this oft-ignored but important corner of the bureaucracy.


  1. It is not that uncommon for people to file false DMCA complaints on YouTube to censor people they don’t like. According to this guy, he a video removed a few days ago because of a totally bogus DMCA.

    And here is a YouTuber who was targeted by False DMCAs who is advocating that anyone who is the target of a false DMCA should sign a false name and address on the counternotice so that trolls won’t get their information. She believes it is better to perjure yourself than endanger yourself by sending some unknown troll your real name and address.

    I’ve been thinking about ways to reform the DMCA so that this problem will be reduced. One way would be to require a copyright holder to register their videos with the Copyright Office before being allowed to file a DMCA. I’ve never registered anything with the copyright office, but I assume they give each registered work a copyright number. The DMCA filer should be required to sign their name, the title of their work, and the copyright registration number to the complaint and YouTube should be required to contact the copyright department to verify that the person who filed the complaint had indeed registered the work. YouTube (or whatever ISP) would only have to take down the video if the copyright office could verify that the copyright owner’s name and registration number are legitimate.

    This scheme would cut down on the number of DMCAs they receive in two ways.

    1) Only those who are serious enough about their copyright interest to register their works would be likely to file a DMCA.
    2) If some troll filed a DMCA despite this new requirement then his goal of censoring someone else will ultimately be thwarted.

    The only people who are likely to file with the Copyright Office are those with serious commercial interest in their videos. They are the ones who really need to have their videos protected by DMCA driven takedowns. Those who are just using the DMCA to stifle speech they don’t like are unlikely to go through the hassles of registering.

    Unfortunately, this scheme looks like an unrealistic pipedream considering the backlog. *Sigh*

  2. You may be right that the only people who are likely to file with the Copyright Office are those with serious commercial interest in their videos. Now, however, those people either have to wait 18 months or pay $685 to speed up their application - which for most is too much to pay per copyrighted item. I recommend that in the meantime, while awaiting a copyright, people look to protect their work in other ways. is an example of an online service for protecting creative work that anyone awaiting a copyright should take a look at.


Comments here are moderated. I appreciate substantive comments, whether or not they agree with what I've written. Stay on topic, and be civil. Comments that contain name-calling, personal attacks, or the like will be rejected. If you want to rant about how evil the RIAA and MPAA are, and how entertainment companies' employees and attorneys are bad people, there are plenty of other places for you to go.