The following is a guest post by Maria Strong, Acting Register of Copyrights.
The U.S. Copyright Office has taken a number of actions to ensure that mission-critical functions continue during the ongoing challenges caused by COVID-19. I commend our staff for maintaining a continued high level of service under these challenging conditions and greatly appreciate all their efforts. As we have completed twenty weeks since we exited the Madison building, I want to share highlights of our many accomplishments as well as areas where we have continuing challenges as a result of limited on-site operations.
Continued Telework and Our Measured Return to Office Buildings
The Library’s facilities closed to the public on March 13, 2020, and Library and Copyright Office staff moved to enhanced telework. As we reported earlier, the Copyright Office worked swiftly to transition 98 percent of our staff to working remotely by the end of March, thus limiting adverse impacts to Office operations.
On June 22, the Library initiated Phase One, Part One of its return to on-site operations, which brought 5 percent of staff back for critical operations with stringent guidelines regarding health and safety. The Copyright Office had thirty-four staffers on-site to handle critical processing of physical materials. Staffers from the Receipt Analysis and Control Division (RAC), Public Records and Repositories (PRR), and accounting (Office of the Chief Financial Officer) were on-site on rotating schedules that did not exceed forty hours during a two-week pay period.
On July 20, the Library initiated Phase One, Part Two operations, with the goal of bringing up to 25 percent of staff on-site. The Copyright Office added twenty more staff (now a total of fifty-four, representing 12 percent of our total staff) to operations in the Madison Building and at the Landover deposit facility. Staff from the Copyright Acquisitions Division (CAD) joined additional staff from the divisions already on-site.
Dates for ending Phase One and starting Phase Two are not known; the Library will make that determination based on local health and safety conditions. For the Copyright Office, future Phase Two operations are expected to add a few more staff members from those divisions already on-site, plus a small contingent of examiners from the registration program. Enhanced teleworking will continue. For those staff who are not scheduled to be on-site, building access is possible but only for essential activities with the approval of the Acting Register.
Many Accomplishments in this Current Environment
The Office has taken new actions to better serve users during this pandemic, including expanding its capabilities to receive and process certain electronic submissions and applications by issuing new regulations and updating workflows. For example:
- The Office adjusted certain practices, issued a new rule, and established dedicated email addresses and other processes to allow online submission of materials and payment of fees where possible.
- Pursuant to the CARES Act and its emergency relief provisions, the Office exercised authority under section 710 of title 17 to adjust the applicable timing provisions in specific cases where compliance would have been possible but for the national emergency. We also notified Congress of the extension of this authority through September 8, 2020.
Legal and policy work continues unabated, supporting pandemic operations, regulatory work, litigation, policy studies, congressional requests, public outreach events, advising other agencies on international IP and trade matters, and other workstreams. The Office of General Counsel (OGC) and the Office of Policy and International Affairs (PIA) have issued numerous Office documents and initiatives, including the following:
- Five notifications of inquiry and notices of proposed rulemaking related to the Music Modernization Act;
- A June 29 notice of proposed rulemaking on e-books;
- A June 22 notice of inquiry and request for petitions to launch the eighth triennial Section 1201 rulemaking process;
- A June 3 public notice regarding a new study on state sovereign immunity;
- The report, Section 512 of Title 17, issued on May 21, followed by a June 30 letter to two senators responding to their questions on the report; and
- A May 18 letter responding to a senator’s request about the initiative known as the National Emergency Library.
For the Office of Registration Policy and Practice (RPP), the transition to remote examination of digital registration applications has been quite successful, with examination of electronic claims continuing at a solid pace to reduce claims on-hand. Indeed, 74 percent of all registration claims the Office receives are fully electronic (electronic claims plus digital deposit materials), and the processing times for these claims have decreased to 2–4 weeks during the pandemic.
- The Office released statistics on registration processing times for the first half of fiscal year 2020 (October 1, 2019—March 21, 2020); these demonstrate positive improvements in decreasing processing times.
- The Office also provided temporary accommodations for applicants that are required to submit physical best edition deposits with their applications by allowing applicants to submit a declaration and optional electronic deposit to enable teleworking examiners to process these claims.
- IT development work to modernize the registration system launched in late June.
Staff in PRR have been handling numerous projects ranging from traditional workloads to working on new pilot projects involving recordation and a new interface for the public records system. Staff have recently returned on-site to handle physical backlogs involving special handling and other paper-based processing of recordations and search requests.
- On April 27, the Office launched a limited pilot program for an electronic recordation system that will eventually replace the current paper-based process. This pilot is the first offering in the Office’s Enterprise Copyright System (ECS), and it focuses on electronic processing of ownership and other documents relating to copyright that fall under section 205 of title 17.
The Copyright Office continues to serve the public using multiple avenues, including 24/7 access to Office services and information via copyright.gov, our website, which is managed by our Office of Public Information and Education (PIE).
- The Public Information Office continues to handle phone calls from the public remotely, but is closed to in-person visitors. PIO regularly handles about 1,500-2,000 calls and responds to over 1,500 emails from the public each week.
- A new webpage has been created to provide general information and updates about Copyright Office operations during the COVID-19 pandemic, including CARES Act notices and an FAQ page.
- The Office continues to host educational events for the public, including a public webinar on April 29, World IP Day, focused on the topic “Innovate for a Green Future.”
- The Office recently issued Circular 92 (Copyright Law), which reflects all of the recent changes to title 17, online (in both pdf and html) and will be available in print through the Government Publishing Office (GPO).
- The Office hosted a July 15 public webinar on the new group registration option for short online literary works.
- The Office is preparing for its August 5 public event, “Celebrating 150 Years of Creativity.”
Modernization efforts continue. On non-IT matters, work on our Organizational Change Management and Business Process Reengineering initiatives continues remotely. On IT-related matters, our staff in many divisions and the Copyright Modernization Office (CMO) have continued work with developers on our various projects. We also have held a number of public events:
- A July 16 Public Forum on the Copyright Information Technology Public Stakeholder Working Group;
- A June 18 copyright modernization webinar on the public record system;
- The issuance on May 18 of a formal Request for Information on possibilities for potential contractors to manage and develop Office capabilities into a new, web-based, cloud-hosted ECS;
- An April 30 copyright modernization webinar on user experience design;
- The April 27 launch of the recordation modernization public pilot.
Regarding financial and budget matters, the accounting teams in the Office of the Chief Financial Officer continue to process fees that are received electronically (ACH, credit card) before on-site operations resumed, and are on-site handling paper receipts. On March 20, the Copyright Office’s updated fee schedule went into effect as scheduled. On July 22, the Office published the successful results of an independent audit of the more than $1.4 billion in royalty fees the Office administers as part of its statutory licensing operations.
CAD (Copyright Acquisitions Division) continues to work with publishers to make them aware of their mandatory deposit responsibilities, encouraging voluntary deposit and fulfilment of open mandatory deposit cases, to provide a flow of deposits for the national collection as best as possible during remote operations. During the first half of 2020, overall e-deposit acquisitions activity involved deposit of 19.1 million publication files and maintenance of access for Library patrons to 9,142 e-serial titles and 546,973 e-books during the same period. The new e-print acquisitions project added 5,706 issues from twenty newspaper titles to the Library of Congress’ collections.
Challenges continue under reduced on-site operations
As we noted before, any changes regarding mail access and shipping deliveries would adversely affect our ability to receive and process incoming correspondence, paper-based applications, and deposit materials (for both registration and mandatory deposit as well as congressional requests). Mail delivery and receipt of courier services was halted on March 26; deliveries were received but were sent to our off-site facility in Maryland in secured and date-stamped pallets. No physical documents were handled or processed until the Library initiated its Phase One, Part One operations on June 22.
For the past few weeks, the more than 200 pallets stored off-site have been recalled to the Madison building in an orderly manner; this intense endeavor was completed by the end of July. It is important to keep in mind, however, that not all Copyright Office divisions have staff on-site yet, so time and patience are still needed as we address the full scope of handling this mail backlog across the Office.
There will be a backlog for certain Office activities, as we resume limited on-site operations. For example:
RAC, our division which handles in-processing and out-processing of mail, is continuing its work to clear the backlogs in all major areas where physical materials could not be processed. They have started printing certificates that could not be printed and mailed; a software glitch that resulted in some duplicated certificates being mailed has been corrected.
- PRR staff were not processing recordation claims submitted by mail before Phase One operations, and they are resuming that activity now. Flexibilities were made for special handling and notices of termination. The pandemic backlog of mailed recordation claims will increase the current recordation backlog; however, the Office will award a contract this fiscal year to provide contract support for PRR’s backlog reduction effort. There also were 245 backlog deposit copy requests pending in queue, and handling these requests has commenced.
- CAD staff have started to address the backlog of physical deposit materials that were received in the mail before the resumption of on-site operations.
As noted above, registration staff are not yet on-site, so work to match up deposit tickets to electronic claims and handle all-physical claims has not begun.
I hope that this longer-than-usual blog shows the immense amount of work accomplished by Copyright Office staff to serve the public. These results are being achieved as all our staff are doing their best to balance the many demands that we all have with our health, our families, and our communities. We all are keenly aware of the fragile conditions and circumstances that affect everyone, including those whose livelihoods are based in the creative sectors of our economy.We appreciate your understanding and patience as we work through the backlogs and other challenges during this pandemic time.
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Be well, stay safe, and thanks.