The following is a guest post by Robert J. Kasunic, Associate Register of Copyrights and Director of Registration Policy and Practice.
This week, the Copyright Office released its registration processing times for the second half of fiscal 2020 (April–September 2020). We issue processing statistics twice during the fiscal year, so this latest update reflects registration processing results during our pandemic operations in 2020. I am writing this blog post to explain some of the changes in processing times, including faster processing times for eService claims but delays for paper applications and applications requiring the submission of physical deposits.
We understand that many people were—and continue to be—seriously impacted by the pandemic, including in ways that may make it difficult to interact with the Copyright Office as they normally would. Fortunately, the CARES Act allowed the Register of Copyrights, on a temporary basis and subject to certain exceptions, to “toll, waive, adjust, or modify any timing provision . . . or procedural provision” in the Copyright Act during a national emergency declared by the President that “generally disrupts or suspends the ordinary functioning of the copyright system . . . or any component thereof.” The Register has used the flexibilities allowed under the CARES Act, making adjustments to help applicants experiencing difficulties.
The last six-plus months have been unprecedented in many ways. The Copyright Office has taken actions to adjust its practices and processes in order to allow our staff to perform under these new conditions while continuing our registration services. Before our access to our offices in the Madison Building was curtailed on March 13, the Registration Program was already well versed in teleworking. We were able to adjust to full-time remote operations very quickly. However, without access to the building for several months, our ability to work on claims involving physical materials (including mail operations) was adversely affected for a significant amount of time. Beginning on August 24, when the Library and the Copyright Office entered Phase Two of restored on-site operations, a limited number of Registration examiners started to come back on-site to address claims with physical materials.
We have been extraordinarily successful in processing all electronic registrations with e-deposits (eService claims), which constituted 95 percent of the registration applications that the Office closed for the six-month period. Registration staff on telework achieved unprecedented processing times on these eService claims. Many applicants received registration decisions in a couple of weeks, and for expedited “special handling” claims, one applicant who received his registration decision in one business day tweeted, “Holy cats! . . . A well-oiled machine!”
Overall processing times for eService claims decreased to an average of 2.6 months for the second half of fiscal 2020, down from 4.0 months for the first half of the fiscal year. For eService claims that did not require correspondence, processing times averaged 1.6 months, down from 2.2 months during the first half of the fiscal year. This demonstrates both the commitment of Registration staff, who, like the rest of the country, were facing extremely challenging circumstances, and the efficiencies of electronic claims and deposits.
With no access to the building and all staff off-site, the Registration staff could not examine paper applications or electronic claims that required physical deposits. To address this challenge, the Registration Program, in cooperation with the Office of the General Counsel, implemented accommodations for applicants who were required by law to submit physical deposits of the “best edition” of certain published works. The Copyright Office created two declarations that allowed applicants who had sent or who were required to send best edition physical copies to additionally submit a digital deposit so that Registration staff could examine these claims while on telework. Despite the pandemic and the delays in processing physical deposits, these accommodations provided applicants with the opportunity to register their copyright claims electronically with unprecedented speed.
For those applicants who did not avail themselves of the declaration options offered, there were delays in processing times for claims requiring physical deposits. The physical deposits went to our off-site warehouse, where they stayed until mail operations resumed and a small number of mailroom and Registration examining staff returned to the building. As a result, average times for deposit ticket claims that did not require correspondence increased to 10.1 months (as compared to 3.4 months for the first half of the fiscal year), and deposit ticket claims that did require correspondence increased to 10.3 months (as compared to 7.0 months for the first half of the fiscal year). But it is important to recognize that the overall percentage of these claims appears to have declined. More applicants are taking advantage of the electronic processes and pandemic accommodations available from the Office.
As for the third type of claims handled by the Registration program, we continued to receive paper applications (also known as mail claims) with physical deposits and payments. These applications made up only about 1 percent of all applications we closed during this half-year period. Like deposit ticket claims, we could not process mail claims while the building was closed and mail was disrupted. Now that we have limited staff in the building, we have begun working on these mail claims. Because of the pandemic, however, processing times for paper applications have increased. For the second half of fiscal 2020, the average processing time for mail claims that did not require correspondence increased to 13.6 months (as compared to 8.3 months for the first half of the fiscal year) and mail claims that did require correspondence increased to 14.5 months (as compared to 8.7 months for the first half of the fiscal year). We strongly encourage applicants to take advantage of the efficiencies of electronic submission to the greatest extent possible.
As we continue to navigate through these challenging times, the Copyright Office maintains its commitment to helping all creators protect their works. We encourage you to use the electronic registration portal to get the swiftest determinations and keep up-to-date on changes to the Office’s policies and procedures. This way you can make sure to take advantage of the various accommodations we have made for creators and owners of copyrighted works affected by the pandemic.