Simplify the copyright registration process and provide more incentives to register.
Although the law no longer requires authors or other rights holders to register their claims of copyright with the Copyright Office, registration provides some benefits to both authors and the public. Copyright registration should therefore be made as easy as possible so that all authors can let the public know about their rights in their works. The benefits of registration for authors should be clearer and stronger than they are today.
Strengthen incentives for updating copyright owner contact information.
The benefits of registration cannot be realized unless the public record about copyright owner information is accurate and up to date. There should be meaningful incentives for copyright records to be accurate. The next copyright act might, for instance, limit the remedies available to owners who do not timely update their contact information when a defendant can show that the inaccurate information derailed a good faith attempt to secure permission from the owner.
Require public recording of changes in copyright ownership.
Authors may have registered their copyright claims, but when they transfer copyrights to others the law currently requires no recording of a traceable link to the original rights holder. It may be hard (or even impossible) to trace copyright ownership unless the law requires all transfers to be recorded. Authors who want to save their own works from becoming legally “orphaned” and thereby relegated to out-of-print oblivion will benefit from such a requirement.
Condition the last 20 years of protection on registration.
Many of us think that copyright terms are far longer than is necessary to induce authors to create new works, but an international treaty, the Berne Convention, constrains Congress’ power to adopt shorter terms. That treaty requires that copyrights must last the life of the author plus 50 years. In 1998, Congress extended existing copyright terms by another 20 years beyond that. It would not violate our treaty obligations for Congress to require copyright owners to register their claims to enjoy that last 20 years of protection. Those rights holders who are continuing to make works available to the public will have ample incentive to register. It is in our and society’s interests that there be a way to reuse works created many decades ago that have fallen out of commerce and whose owners do not care enough about them to register for additional protection.