Revamping the Copyright Registration System
Dan Heller’s Photography Business Blog. Proposal for Privatizing the Copyright Registration Process. Jan. 21, 2008. Citing other instances of government outsourcing — including U.S. Postal Service allowing Mail Boxes Etc. and other commercial mail receiving agencies to manage mail delivery and pickup — Heller suggests that the U.S. Copyright Office accredit private sector business to handle copyright registrations. (Although Heller does not mention this specific example, America already is quite familiar with this model, since domain name registrations are outsourced to hundreds of registrars that are accredited by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).)
We already have some businesses that purport to handle copyright registrations, but many of these firms seem suspect at best. A rigorous accreditation process (similar to the one ICANN uses), overseen by the U.S. Copyright Office, likely would weed out the fly-by-night firms. (Look at the questions you have to answer in order to get ICANN registrar accreditation. Then there is a $2,500 application fee, which is just steep enough to make pretenders think twice.)
Further, the U.S. Copyright Office already has received poor marks for its online registration system after a lengthy development period, so there remains a legitimate question as to whether the agency can implement a solid solution. And online registration clearly is the way to go, since (a) USPS mail to federal government agencies still gets delayed because of anthrax screening; and (b) it’s 2007 and our federal government should have online services like this down pat by now.
Further, broadening the registration process may encourage more people to register their works. Currently, copyright is the only one of the Big Three forms of intellectual property where neither registration nor public review is required prior to the government granting monopoly status. This leads to several problems, not the least of which is a huge orphan works nightmare, and a suppressed, downstream licensing market that suffers because no one can find the correct copyright owner.
We don’t reflexively get on the “business can do better than government” bandwagon, and the current domain name registration model has its own unique problems, but this is a marvelous idea in so many ways.
(Editor’s Note: Copycense editors originally commented on this article in the Jan. 29, 2008, edition of Copycense Clippings, where it was an Article of the Week selection.)
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