Category Archives: Issues

Copyright Registration Part 2:
How to Register Your Copyright

Posted February 21, 2018

Last week we outlined the benefits of registering your work with the U.S. Copyright Office. If you missed it, start here to learn why registration is an advantageous practice for authors. In the second half of this two-part series, we explain how to register your works with the U.S. Copyright Office.

Copyright registration is a claim to copyright filed with the Copyright Office which creates a public record of facts about a copyrighted work, including authorship and ownership information. Copyright registration includes three essential elements: a completed application form, a filing fee, and a “deposit” (a copy of the work submitted to the Copyright Office). Each of these steps are outlined below. Authors, their agents, and owners of an exclusive right in a work can register a copyright. Often, but not always, if you are publishing your work, your publisher will register the work for you—but it is best to check, especially if you are retaining your copyright or publishing with a smaller press. If you are self-publishing your work, it will be up to you (or your agent) register the copyright to your work.

Registration can be made at any time within the life of copyright, but some benefits of registration are contingent upon timely filing, as described in last week’s post.

Application Form

Application forms for copyright registration can be completed and submitted online or through a paper application. The Copyright Office encourages authors to register online, where possible. Advantages of registering online include lower filing fees, faster processing times, and the ability to track the application status.

Online applications for copyright registration can be accessed from the Copyright Office’s Registration Portal, paper forms are available on the Copyright Office’s Forms page, or you can request forms through the mail by calling (202) 707-3000.

Before you begin an application, you will need to select the category of work that best corresponds to the work you want to register (e.g. literary works, visual arts, motion pictures, photographs, etc.). The information collected on the form is based on the type of work you are registering, but generally includes information about the work (such as the title, completion year, and publication year, if applicable), the author, and the copyright owner. Once the application is submitted to the Copyright Office, the application is a part of the public record, meaning anyone can request to see a copy of your application.

Filing Fee

The filing fee for online applications is currently $35 (single application) or $55 (standard application). The filing fee for paper applications is currently $85. If you are submitting your application online, the Copyright Office accepts credit cards, debit cards, or electronic checks. Fees accompanying paper forms must be paid by check or money order (unless the registrant maintains a deposit account with the Copyright Office).

Deposit Copy of the Work

You normally must submit a copy or copies of your work (known as a “deposit”) to complete the application process.

Some works, such as unpublished works and works published only in an electronic format, may be submitted electronically with an online application form. If you are submitting a work electronically, make sure that you submit it in an electronic file type acceptable to the Copyright Office. The maximum size for an uploaded file is 500MB.

If you are registering a work first published in the United States after January 1, 1978, you may be subject to “best edition” and mandatory deposit requirements. In this case, you must submit two complete hard copies of your work (or, in the case of certain types of published literary works and musical compositions, a single copy). If there are multiple editions of your work, you may be required to deposit the “best edition”. The best edition is the edition published in the United States at any time before the date of deposit that the Library of Congress determines is most suitable. For example, the Copyright Office’s Best Edition Statement requires that you submit the hard cover edition of your work rather than the soft cover edition, if your work is available in both forms. If multiple versions of your work are published, review the Best Edition Statement to determine which edition to submit.

Hard deposit copies can be mailed to:
Library of Congress
U.S. Copyright Office
101 Independence Avenue SE
Washington, DC 20559

If you are mailing a hard copy of your work after submitting an online registration form, be sure to include the shipping slip that was created when you filled out the application on your computer. If you are filing for registration using a paper form, send the work, the completed application form, and the fee in one package.

Please note that some works have special rules, considerations, or exemptions from the deposit requirement. For example, if you are registering a sculptural work or a computer program, you generally should submit “identifying material” (like photographs or drawings in the case of a sculptural work or source code in the case of a computer program) instead of the work itself. To learn more, read Copyright Office Circular 7D.

Processing time

As of February 2018, the average processing time for online applications is 6-8 months and for paper applications is 8-10 months. If your registration is approved, the Copyright Office will mail a registration certificate to the address specified in your application form and the effective date of registration will be the date that the Office received all of the required elements (the application, fee, and deposit).

For more information on copyright registration, see the Copyright Office Circular 2.

Last updated February 20, 2018.

We are grateful to Allison Davenport, former Authors Alliance Research Assistant, for her help with researching and drafting this post.

Copyright Registration Part 1:
Why Register Your Copyright?

Posted February 14, 2018

Under today’s copyright laws, copyright protection for original, creative works is automatic from the moment the work is “fixed in a tangible medium” (e.g., as soon as the author puts pen to paper, paintbrush to canvas, or saves a computer file). Although authors do not need to register their works in order to enjoy the protection of copyright law, registration has several benefits which make it an advantageous practice.

In this first article in a two-part series, we outline some of the benefits of registering your copyrights. Next week, we’ll explain how to register your works with the U.S. Copyright Office.

Copyright registration is a claim to copyright filed with the Copyright Office which creates a public record of facts about a copyrighted work, including authorship and ownership information. Copyright registration includes three essential elements: a completed application form, a filing fee, and a “deposit” (a copy of the work submitted to the Copyright Office). We’ll cover those steps in more detail in next week’s post on how to register copyrights. Authors, their agents, and owners of an exclusive right in a work can register a copyright. Often, but not always, if you are publishing your work, your publisher will register the work for you—but it is best to check, especially if you are retaining your copyright or publishing with a smaller press. If you are self-publishing your work, it will be up to you (or your agent) register the copyright to your work.

Registration can be made at any time within the life of copyright, but some benefits of registration are contingent upon timely filing, as described below.

Registration Establishes a Public Record of Ownership

Registering your work—and recording subsequent transfers of ownership—creates a record of copyright ownership that allows the public to identify and locate copyright owners. This benefits both authors and the public, and it helps prevent works from becoming orphans. Ownership records enable would-be users of works to locate the copyright owner in order to ask for permission or a license to make uses that are within the copyright owner’s exclusive rights, to provide attribution to the author, or to discover when a work is in the public domain. In the absence of a public record of copyright ownership, would-be users of a work may not know whom to contact, and may abandon potential onward uses of your work. This means that you could lose revenue from licensing opportunities and miss out on the chance to grant permission for uses which you would welcome (even without payment); consequently, your work may not have the vibrant life you hoped for in years to come.

Flora Foxglove retained all of the copyrights to her book of gardening tips and registered the work with the Copyright Office. Horace Horticulture wants to copy and share the book with his community gardening class, so he searches the Copyright Office’s records to find out how to contact Flora. He sends a request to Flora’s PO Box, asking for her permission to copy and distribute her work with his students. Delighted to share gardening know-how with budding enthusiasts, Flora gives Horace her permission to reproduce the work so long as he includes her name on the copies.

Blaine Blockbuster thinks that a movie adaptation of Betsy Bestseller’s latest novel would make the next Hollywood hit. He searches the Copyright Office’s records, and finds that Percy Publisher owns all of the exclusive rights in the work. Blaine contacts Percy and negotiates for a license to make a movie adaptation of the novel.

Registration is Necessary Before Initiating an Infringement Suit

In addition to facilitating downstream uses of a work, registration gives you additional rights in the event that your work is infringed. In fact, registration is a necessary precursor to a copyright infringement lawsuit: If someone uses your work in a way that you think infringes on your copyright and you want to initiate a copyright infringement lawsuit, you must register your copyright before you can do so.

Registration Within Five Years of Publication Provides Favorable Presumptions

If a work is registered before or within five years of publication, registration brings with it the presumption that the work is copyrightable and that the facts stated in the registration certificate are true. This may include information such as the name of the author, the name of the copyright owner, the title of the work, the date the work was published, and the effective date of registration. This means that in an infringement suit, if your registration was timely, the burden of proving your copyright is invalid will fall on the defendant. If you do not register within five years of publication, you can still do so, but how much weight a court will give the facts stated in the registration is at its discretion.

Registration Within Three Months of Publication, or Prior to Infringement of the Work, Opens Up the Possibility of Statutory Damages and Attorneys’ Fees

If registration is made within three months of publication of the work, or prior to the infringement of the work, statutory damages (predetermined payments established by law) and attorneys’ fees are available to the copyright owner in the event of an infringement lawsuit. Statutory damages typically range from $750 to $30,000 per infringed work (though they can be as high as $150,000 per infringed work for willful infringement, or as low as $200 where the infringer was not aware and had no reason to believe the use was infringing.) Timely registration also allows you to request reimbursement of your attorneys’ fees and costs of filing the lawsuit. If you do not register your work prior to the infringement or within three months of publication, your remedy in an infringement action is limited to the actual damages you suffered from the infringement (and any of the infringer’s additional profits that are attributable to the infringement), as well as injunctive relief (e.g., a court order restraining the defendant from copying the work).

Last updated February 13, 2018.

We are grateful to Allison Davenport, former Authors Alliance Research Assistant, for her help with researching and drafting this post.

Rights Reversion Success Story: David G. Ullman

Posted January 31, 2018

Headshot of David UllmanDavid G. Ullman is Professor Emeritus of Mechanical Engineering Design at Oregon State University and an expert on product design and decision-making best practices. After securing a reversion of rights, Ullman published the sixth edition of The Mechanical Design Process, a leading text used to teach mechanical engineers the processes of product design. We asked Professor Ullman to share his rights reversion success story with us.

Authors Alliance: What motivated you to request your rights back?

David Ullman: When The Mechanical Design Process was first introduced in 1992, I insisted that it be priced at less than $50. I felt this was a fair price for a university text on the topic. McGraw-Hill, the publisher, agreed and released it at $49. Over the years, McGraw-Hill steadily raised the price over my protests. By 2017 the list price was $166. University bookstores sold it for $149. I contacted McGraw-Hill, protesting the price increases. I told them that I did not understand their business model, the price was usury, and they were killing the sales of the book. Where inflation would have taken the book to $85, they had nearly doubled that. Finally, in early 2017, when the annual sales for the fifth edition (2015) had dropped from 4,000 copies per year to 1,000, I offered to buy the copyright, and they agreed, at no cost to me. Thus, in November 2017 I released a new edition of the book at a price practitioners and students can afford: $49.95. It is interesting to note that as soon as the agreement was signed, McGraw-Hill’s list price was lowered by $30.

AuAll: How and when did you first hear about rights reversion?

DU: I always knew that it was possible to buy back rights. When I decided to request the rights back, I did a lot of online reading to be sure I understood the ins and outs.

AuAll: Could you walk us through the process of requesting your rights back?

Continue reading

Christopher Jon Sprigman Sheds New Light On Copyright and Creative Incentives

Posted January 23, 2018

Poster advertising a performance of La Traviata in 1853What do Wikipedia, 19th-century Italian opera, Bollywood movies, and fan fiction have in common? According to NYU law professor (and Authors Alliance founding member) Christopher Jon Sprigman, more than you might think. In a recent article in the Houston Law Review, Sprigman explains that these creative endeavors are all examples of how copyright principles can work in unexpected ways across different genres and audiences.

Conventional wisdom about copyright holds that it is a spur to creativity and provides financial and moral incentives for creators to produce new content. This may sometimes be the case—but does (and should) this core assumption always hold steady across a variety of contexts and creative communities? Sprigman suggests that the answer is no. Citing the examples above, he points to empirical studies which indicate that the link between copyright and creative incentives doesn’t always conform to theory in the ways we might expect. In some cases, a lack of stringent copyright norms seems to stimulate creative production, rather than hampering it. Research in this area is relatively new, and Sprigman’s work shows the way to intriguing new areas of inquiry that help broaden our understanding of how and when current copyright rules work in favor of creators and audiences—and when they don’t.

Read (or download) the full article on SSRN.


Resource Roundup: The Public Domain

Posted January 15, 2018

public domain image courtesy of the Library of Congress

The first day of Copyright Week is dedicated to the public domain and creativity. It’s an opportunity to reflect on the most recent Public Domain Day, which took place on January 1. On that date, a host of works entered the public domain in Canada, New Zealand, and Europe, as detailed here. But due to copyright term extensions that went into effect in 1998, those of us in the United States have been in a public domain drought for decades. We’ll have to wait until 2019 to freely access many works first published in 1923—almost 100 years ago.

Although some works first published in the United States in or after 1923 may already be in the public domain as a result of failure to comply with formalities, and some unpublished works may also be in the public domain, it can be devilishly difficult to determine when this is the case. We recommend Peter Hirtle’s Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States and Berkeley Law’s “Is it in the Public Domain?” Handbook to help you evaluate a work’s copyright status.

We at Authors Alliance are already looking forward to next January 1, when all works first published in the United States in 1923 will (finally) enter the public domain in the United States and become “free as the air to common use.” Read why in Molly Van Houweling’s post on how the public domain benefits authors.

In the meantime, check out Public Domain Review’s Guide for thorough guidance on how to find public domain works online.

Authors Alliance Comments in Support of Modified Exemption to Section 1201 of the DMCA

Posted December 19, 2017
photo of CD with padlock

photo by 422737 |CC0

Earlier this week, Authors Alliance submitted comments to the Copyright Office in support of a modified exemption to Section 1201 of the DMCA for multimedia e-books. The proposed exemption would allow all authors to access the clips they need to make fair use of video clips in their e-books. These comments were submitted as part of the seventh annual triennial rulemaking process for 2018, with the goal of building on the success of our previous efforts to advocate for fair uses of copyrighted content.

2017.12.18 Multimedia E-Books Modification Long Form Comment AuAll AAUP ...


As we wrote in the comment, “Electronic books continue to represent a well-utilized form of authorship that becomes more dynamic when multimedia elements are added. With modern technology, authors are now able to incorporate audiovisual content directly into their e-books for lawful fair use purposes. Multimedia e-books allow a unique experience not possible through simple static text and visuals. By allowing authors to embed non-static forms of content into e-books, multimedia e-book technology empowers authors to conduct scholarship, express new ideas, facilitate rich discussion, educate others, engage in creative expression, and share research and findings in a way that mere prose cannot.”

We also joined with EFF, New Media Rights, the Organization for Transformative Works, the American Library Association, the Association of Research Libraries, and the Association of College Research Libraries on a comment in support of one clear, easier-to-use exemption for video excerpts that would allow authors, educators, libraries, documentary filmmakers, remix artists, and others to use video snippets without fear of legal repercussions by copyright owners. The comment is available here.

We will continue to track the status of these proposed 1201 exemptions and to provide updates as the rulemaking process moves forward in 2018.

Model Publishing Contract Features Author-Friendly Terms for Open Access Scholarship

Posted December 14, 2017

The University of Michigan and Emory University have teamed up to create a Model Publishing Contract for Digital Scholarship designed to aid in the publication of long-form digital scholarship according to open access principles. It’s a terrific new resource for authors and publishers alike!

Developed by a team of library and university press professionals, the model contract takes into account the needs of a variety of stakeholders. The contract is shorter and easier to understand than typical publishing contracts, and it offers authors more rights in their own work, while still allowing publishers sufficient rights for commercial uses and sales. Associated documents include:

  • An introduction to the project
  • A guide to using the model documents
  • A customizable contract template in Word format
  • A sample letter for requesting permission to create and distribute digital copies of a copyright owner’s work
  • A glossary of legal terms

All of the documents are available online under a CC0 license, so they can be tailored to meet an author’s or institution’s specific needs. Even for those not currently negotiating a publishing agreement, the model contract provides useful information and sample language demonstrating author-friendly terms.

The model publishing contract is a great complement to one of our current projects here at Authors Alliance. We’re hard at work on a guide to understanding publication contracts—the fourth volume in our series of educational handbooks, due to be released in 2018. Our guide will explain various contractual terms from an authors’ rights perspective. We recommend the model contract project as an excellent example of a fair and workable document with a special emphasis on open access scholarship.


Demystifying Fair Use: Our New Guide, FAQs, and More!

Posted December 7, 2017

Fair use, as many of our readers know, can be a tricky concept to pin down. What exactly does fair use mean? What makes it such an important part of U.S. copyright law? What are the “four factors” that courts consider when evaluating claims of fair use? And, perhaps most importantly of all, how does fair use support authors’ research, writing, and publishing goals?

Authors who want to incorporate source materials with confidence, while also respecting copyright and the integrity of their fellow creators, may find themselves faced with more questions than answers. Fortunately, help is at hand!

Cover of the Fair Use Guide for Nonfiction AuthorsAuthors Alliance released a brand-new guide to Fair Use for Nonfiction Authors last week. Although the guide was designed around the needs of nonfiction authors, much of the information applies to authors across disciplines. After all, many questions and misconceptions about fair use overlap regardless of genre. The FAQ section of the guide addresses some common questions, such as:

  • Can I still claim fair use if I am using copyrighted material that is highly creative?
  • What if I want to use copyrighted material for commercial purposes?
  • Does fair use apply to copyrighted material that is unpublished?

Learn the answers to these and other fair use questions at our new Fair Use Resources page. While you’re there, you can also download a PDF version of the guide. A print edition is forthcoming in February 2018, and Authors Alliance members can sign up for the pre-order list by emailing us at

If you’re not yet a member, we encourage you to join today! And if you value this and other Authors Alliance resources, please consider a donation to support our 2017 gift campaign.

Announcing the Authors Alliance Guide to Fair Use for Nonfiction Authors

Posted November 29, 2017

Cover of Fair Use for Nonfiction AuthorsWe are pleased to announce the release of our brand-new guide to Fair Use for Nonfiction Authors! The guide is designed to empower authors to exercise their right to use source materials to further their research and writing goals by helping them to make confident fair use decisions. This new guide is the latest addition to our growing library of resource books for authors, which includes educational guides for rights reversion and open access.

Inspired by the work of Peter Jaszi and Patricia Aufderheide at the Center for Media and Social Impact at American University, this guide focuses on best practices for nonfiction authors—from biographers to science writers, historians to literary critics, memoirists to academics, and beyond—who depend on the use of copyrighted materials in their work.

The guide will help nonfiction authors who want to do things like:

  • Include song lyrics in an academic paper discussing musical trends;
  • Quote from a novel to analyze the author’s use of metaphors in a work of literary criticism;
  • Incorporate a photograph in an article about the photographer’s use of light and shadow;
  • Use a chart in a scientific paper critiquing a researcher’s methodology and findings; or
  • Quote from unpublished letters in a memoir.

The guide addresses three common situations faced by nonfiction authors in which fair use may apply: 1) criticizing, discussing, or commenting on copyrighted material; 2) using copyrighted material to support a point made in the author’s work; and 3) using copyrighted material for non-consumptive research.  It also addresses the most frequently asked questions about fair use and clears up some common misconceptions about when it might apply.

We thank Rob Walker and the Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic at UC Berkeley School of Law for their help in researching and drafting the guide, which features extensive input from nonfiction authors, copyright experts, and partner organizations. The guide has also been endorsed by the American Council of Learned Societies and the Association for Information Science and Technology.

Download the guide and learn more about fair use at our new Fair Use resource page. And, if you have any fair use questions or experiences to share with us, please get in touch at


DMCA Exemptions: We Want To Hear From You

Posted November 21, 2017
photo of CD with padlock

photo by 422737 |CC0

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is hurting authors’ ability to make fair use.

But you can help by taking 5 minutes to fill out this short survey.

The problem: The DMCA makes it illegal to rip from DVDs, Blu-ray discs, and many other encrypted technologies, and this restriction is blocking authors’ ability to make fair use. This causes serious harm to authorship in the digital environment. Why? Because even though fair use allows authors to use copyrighted video in their e-books in certain situations, the DMCA restricts authors’ access to such material.

What we are doing about it: Fortunately, the law allows for a triennial rulemaking process where the Copyright Office can recommend exemptions for authors to access the works they need. There is an exemption currently in effect—but it only applies to nonfiction multimedia e-books offering film analysis. That’s why Authors Alliance and other organizations are fighting for a modified exemption that will allow all authors of e-books to access the clips they need from DVDs, Blu-ray discs, and digital streaming services.

How you can help: The Copyright Office places a heavy emphasis on stories from authors who have been harmed by the DMCA in the past or are likely to be harmed by the DMCA in the future. Please CLICK HERE TO SHARE YOUR STORIES.

Want to learn more: Click here to learn more about our petition.