How would you search Copyright records? — Building a system with you in mind

Copyright records serve a variety of information needs from finding the current owner of a work to a survey of cultural development in the United States. Users of the records approach them in different ways depending on their particular need at the moment. Similarly, there are different approaches to how we can make the currently non-digital Copyright records available online. The general notion right now is to create a data record with enough information to allow title, name, and assigned number searching with links to images of the respective paper records including the catalog cards, applications, transfer and assignment records, and other related items. But I’d like to hear from those who have interest in these records and get your thoughts on how you would search the records and how you would like to see the records displayed. And it’s okay to refer to other websites as models. We’re not trying to reinvent wheels that have already proven to be effective.

The following is a list of the search terms that one might include in a search of Copyright records. Are there others?

  • Title
  • Name (author/claimant)
  • Name (assignor/party 1)
  • Name (assignee/party 2)
  • Type of record (Registration or transfer/assignment)
  • Registration number
  • Document number (for transfers and assignments)
  • Date or date range (effective date of registration, date of recordation, date of execution)

How would you prefer for the search results to be generated? One option is a sortable list of records based on keywords found in specific fields or in any field in a record.  An alternative is a list of all records containing words in the search argument occurring anywhere in a record with the functionality to filter the results by facets reflective of the search terms above.  Would either suit your needs better or is there another alternative that might provide more useful results?

What we can eventually provide will be determined by cost and what the Copyright Office can afford. Nevertheless, we want to know your thoughts so whatever is built comes as close as possible to your needs. Your input is important and most welcome.


  1. Jeff Cohan
    January 19, 2012 at 5:45 pm

    Are there others?

    1. Media Type
    2. Content Descriptor i.e hull design, cartoon, architect’s drawing

    How would you prefer for the search results to be generated?

    It would be nice if the nearby search terms expanded relationally like the LOC catalog search does for an author.

  2. K. L. Ortiz
    January 19, 2012 at 5:57 pm

    Also search by type of work?

  3. Claudeth
    January 20, 2012 at 9:27 am

    Working for a large book publisher who submits hundreds of registrations per year, it would be would be great if we could search by ISBN-10 or ISBN-13 digits. Please add that search field.

  4. Susie
    January 20, 2012 at 10:01 am

    Perhaps I didn’t pick up on this, but it would be so helpful if a search by title or other means, helps one determine exactly when a copyright expires and, if it was renewed (back in those days), when and until what date.

  5. David Hayes
    January 20, 2012 at 12:25 pm

    In answer to Susie’s remark, it would be easy for a web site to automatically calculate the expiration dates of the original copyright term and of any renewal term, without the database requiring any additional fields to store this information. A very few rules (based on the year that copyright went into effect on that work) are all that are needed to process the information.

    If Susie would like to see these processes applied to a timeline of copyright dates, she may visit to see a visual representation of the copyright terms resulting from these rules.

  6. Mike Burke
    January 20, 2012 at 4:56 pm

    Thank you for the feedback on my recent post.

    Starting in 1900, the Copyright Office used a classification system that identified a work as being a book, pamphlet, periodical, contribution to a periodical, lecture, sermon or address, dramatic composition, map, work of art, reproduction of art, drawing, photograph, print or pictorial illustration, label, photoplay, motion picture, or sound recording. The classification code was included in the assigned registration number which will make it possible during the indexing step to parse out the code and create a facet to limit search results. Similar filtering is available today when searching the post-1977 online Copyright records. The classification system saw some adjustments along the way but we know what was in effect at any point in time. So for the pre-1978 records we should be able to support narrowing a search by type of work and to a degree by content descriptor and media type.

    Regarding the expansion of search terms, names will be expandable for the pre-1978 records just as they are now in the post-1977 Copyright records. Our vision is that all of the records will co-exist in the same database.

    International Standard Book Numbers, first used in 1966, were not included in the pre-1978 Copyright records. While we recognize the value of the ISBN particularly when matching bibliographic records and Copyright records, the data is just not available.

    About determining when a copyright expires, I’ll add that to our list of desirable features for further discussion.

    Thank you again. Your input is appreciated and most welcome.

    Mike Burke

  7. Freya Anderson
    January 20, 2012 at 9:40 pm

    It would be helpful to have an option for fuzzy searches, for those times when precise information about a work is not known. Often, we deal with poor quality or incomplete originals, so we’re guessing for some title words and author names. Other times, especially with images, there is no written information at all. There’s no way for search capabilities to solve all of these issues, alas, but a fuzzy search option could solve some.

    That said, precise searching is also important for when you know what you’re looking for.

    Thank you for the opportunity for input!

  8. Dan Ballard
    January 21, 2012 at 11:39 am

    If the Copyright Office is in the process of digitizing its non-digital records for the purpose of making them publicly available then it behooves the Office to issue a “Notice” in the Federal Register so that all stakeholders can provide input. Transparency is the rule, not the exception. The “Notice” process is quite simple and would, I suspect, provide the Office with very useful information about how it can better serve those who it is obligated to serve [the public].

  9. J. Sunderland
    January 22, 2012 at 2:34 pm

    First of all, thanks for soliciting this feedback. I agree with previous comments that some ability to select by media type is critical to distinguish between similar names of works (books, films, photos, etc). In addition, I’d like to make sure that the search system you create will allow combination of search terms to limit the search result to effectively focus in on the specific work. E.g., photo by particular photographer created in a particular date range. Would also be good to know if there were transfer records associated with the registration record.

    In response to your question on form of search results, I recommend the second: a list of all records containing words in the search argument occurring anywhere in a record with the functionality to filter the results by facets reflective of the search terms above. Would also be good to highlight the search terms in the result.

  10. Heather
    January 23, 2012 at 11:35 am

    It would be great to be able to search by notice of termination of transfer. With the influx of terminations that are and will be instituted in the years to come, searching for a notice of termination without the need to know the document number would be very helpful.

  11. Diane Davison
    January 23, 2012 at 2:42 pm

    I would love to have a primary search field and then a secondary search field within those results, to help narrow down the target results quicker—so for instance, I might search by last name and then by title or vice-versa.

    It would also be great to have pre-1978 works searchable!

  12. Sharad Shah
    January 30, 2012 at 7:40 am

    Here’s the set I would like to see:

    Title of work
    Type of work:
    Format: (physical description)
    Registration Number:
    Date of Creation: (range)

    I’m on the fence as far as some address information. It might be too much, or it may prove helpful. “I know my great uncle, such-and-such, lived in Somewhere, NJ, from 1925-1930. While he was there…he filed some Copyrights, but I don’t know what they were for.”

  13. Robert Roomian
    December 2, 2012 at 12:41 pm

    The above request and suggestion that the Copyright Office provide copyright expiraton dates is not feasible and goes well beyond the mandate of what information the Copyright Office is supposed to provide. The Copyright Office is an office of record. Therefore, the scope of registration and transfer information provided should be what is of record. Asking the Copyright Office to provide copyright expiration dates is tantamount to providing a legal opinion as to the copyright status of the work, which is something the Copyright Office, quite rightly, does not do. Moreover, the copyright expiration date will depend on a host of variables, such as whether the work is a foreign or domestic work, or eligible for automatic renewal. Is the Copyright Office supposed to undertake such an analysis for each and every work and incorporate it into the search system. I think not. The responsibility for such an analysis lies with the user.