From 1870 to 1977 there were 16.4 million works registered in the Copyright Office. Many are still under protection of the Copyright law. During that same time, the assignment or transfer of rights was recorded for more than 1.7 million works. So how do you determine if a particular work is still under copyright and who the owner is? The answers are in the paper and microfilm records in the Copyright Office. The goal of the Copyright digitization and public access project is to convert these records and to make them widely available online via the web.
As with many historical records, the public records of the Copyright Office do not exist comprehensively in one set or in one format. Rather, for any particular research, there may be several kinds of records that will together show the history and provenance of a copyrighted work. To obtain the most complete and most reliable information, these records must be consulted in combination.
There are five primary sets among the 1870 to 1977 records:
1. Copyright Record Books containing the early records of copyright ownership
2. Bound volumes containing applications for copyright registration
3. Copyright Card Catalog
4. Published Catalogs of Copyright Entries (CCE’s)
5. Copies of documents pertaining to transfer and assignment of copyrights
Copyright records are not only a reference to works that are or were under copyright protection but also an irreplaceable piece of Americana. The records provide a perspective on the evolution of our great nation from its very founding to the present day. Preservation and increased availability are strong arguments for digitizing the records and the digitization priorities of the Office must reflect the priorities and expectations of the public and the value of the records for their use.
The technology now exists to convert the non-digital records of the Copyright Office and to make the information widely available through electronic access. There is growing interest both within and outside the Copyright Office to apply this technology to these records sooner rather than later. Through this blog we hope to receive your thoughts and ideas so that we can present the records online in a way that will best suit your needs.