Welcome to the U.S. Copyright Office Blog! Over the years, a lot has been said about the U.S. Copyright Office. But what are we REALLY like? With this inaugural blog post for 2017, I would like to reintroduce you to the Copyright Office and the work we do. In future posts, our blog will provide helpful information about upcoming studies and reports, developments in domestic and international copyright law and policy, registration practice, and other exciting news related to the Office.
With roughly 400 employees across eight divisions, the Copyright Office represents myriad perspectives, backgrounds, and interests. We are current and former musicians, writers, and software developers; we’ve performed in children’s theater, at Carnegie Hall, and at the Vatican. We have acted in popular TV shows, played on a nationally ranked rugby team, and crafted anti-terrorism training for developing countries. We have worked in the public and private sectors, in academia and at nonprofits, for content companies and technology companies. Altogether we have worked in at least fifteen different federal agencies and speak languages as varied as Swahili, Mandarin Chinese, Dutch, Marathi, and ancient Greek.
Our registration staff, for example, includes several lawyers and PhDs; multiple registration specialists have a master’s degree in library and information science. They came to the Copyright Office by way of institutions like the Smithsonian and National Archives. Some are former school teachers, others served in the military. Most, it seems, play a musical instrument (or several), ranging from guitar to piano to flute to bassoon to mandolin. Some have registered their own copyrights. And one was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for musical composition. In 2016, these registration specialists—fifty-seven “on production” and thirty-nine in training—processed nearly 500,000 copyright registration applications. About 91 percent of applications were filed online.
Our companion office to registration—recordation—also is privileged to include staff with a significant diversity of backgrounds and experiences. The recordation team lead, for example, toured Belgium, London, and Paris with his high-school music group, then studied music performance in college and earned a law degree before going to work for a copyright licensing agency. The staff in our recordation office often is confronted with novel and interesting copyright ownership claims, such as those arising from wills, bankruptcies, powers of attorney, and, of course, contracts assigning or licensing rights. In 2016, staff recorded ownership interests in more than 160,000 copyrighted works.
Our other non-legal departments are the Office of Public Information & Education, the Office of the Chief Information Officer, the Office of the Chief of Operations, and the Office of the Chief Financial Officer. Their staffs likewise bring unique experiences to the Copyright Office. For example, one is a trustee of the Grand Opera House in Wilmington, Delaware. Another is a second-generation Copyright Office employee who has spent more than twenty-five years here and at the Library of Congress—and also happens to be a published poet and spoken word artist. Yet another joined the Copyright Office in 1977 before spending several years as a sports and metro reporter for the Washington Post, then launching a copyright-focused magazine, and, eventually, returning to our fold. In 2016, our information specialists handled nearly 200,000 requests from the general public and our in-processing team processed more than 700,000 physical copyright deposits. Also in 2016, our licensing division collected nearly $250 million in royalty payments for distribution by the Copyright Royalty Board.
Finally, the Copyright Office’s legal and policy staff hails from a wide variety of private sector, public interest, academic, and government positions. This small group of lawyers includes attorneys who practiced at large and small law firms, representing a wide range of clients from content owners to technology firms; a former fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society and a current visiting fellow at Yale’s Information Society Project; a former lawyer for Creative Commons and a former software developer who has built at least ten computers; a Cambridge-trained expert on archeological heritage and museums and a trapeze aerialist; an erstwhile music video performer and two half-Ironman triathletes. Over the past five years, legal and policy staff published eight comprehensive reports on issues ranging from small claims to administrative fees to software in everyday products; legal staff also participated in four Supreme Court cases and numerous cases in the lower courts.
Altogether, our staff has logged nearly 7,000 years of public service at the U.S. Copyright Office. The longest-serving among us joined the Copyright Office in 1966. The ten longest-serving employees have together spent almost half a millennium here.
Whether we are former musicians, writers, or tech geeks, we all share a love for the creative culture of our world and a very real pride in being able to play some small part in fostering, supporting, and celebrating creativity in all of its forms. Welcome to the U.S. Copyright Office!