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Shelves filled with volumes fill the background. On the right is a page from a volume that reads, "Application: A registration of a claim to copyright." Text in a box on the left hand side reads, "Digitizing Over 9 Million Historical Record Pages and Counting. 30 percent of Record Books Now Digitally Available Online." The Copyright Office logo sits in the bottom left corner.

Digitizing Over 9 Million Historical Record Pages and Counting

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The following is a guest post by Kristin Phelps, digitization manager in the U.S. Copyright Office’s Office of Copyright Records.

The U.S. Copyright Office has now released over 9 million digitized pages documenting copyright registrations for books, periodicals, and unpublished musical works found in the Copyright Historical Record Books Collection. These pages comprise just part of the most complete and accurate collection of historical copyright records in the world.

What are these records?

The millions of copyright records created provide a comprehensive look at the creative works documenting the nation’s history, shaping the cultural landscape, and inspiring the next generation. Through the centuries, these records have been kept in various ways.

Before copyright registration was centralized in the Library of Congress in 1870, copyright registration records were held at federal district courts around the country and in government offices in DC. Most were later transferred to the Library of Congress, and many of these older records can be found online today in the Early Copyright Materials Collection. Since 1978, copyright records have been preserved as online indexed records and are accessible and searchable through the Copyright Public Records System.

For the millions of copyright records between 1870 and 1977, indices of registrations and other records pertaining to copyright ownership were kept in the Card Catalog, the Catalogs of Copyright Entries, and bound Historical Record Books. The Card Catalog and Catalog of Copyright Entries are digitally accessible online. The record books were previously only accessible for viewing and research on-site at the Copyright Office in Washington, DC.

What is the Historical Records Books digitization project?

In 2021, the Copyright Office began digitizing the Historical Record Books Collection’s more than 26,000 volumes—over 26,000,000 pages—making it one of the most extensive digitization projects at the Library of Congress. Why did the Copyright Office take on this herculean task? Because it supports two major goals of our strategic plan. The first is Copyright for All. By digitizing the collection, anyone can access these records from a computer rather than having to travel to Washington, DC, thus making them accessible to more members of the public. The second goal is Continuous Development. We’re improving access on a continuous cycle by using state-of-the-art technology to digitize the collection and make it available and more easily searchable in phases.

The Office published the first 500 digitized record books online in February 2022 and now has digitized more than 9 million pages of registration applications. The volumes available cover books, periodicals, and unpublished music—that is, records from class A, AA, and A subclasses; B, BB, and B subclasses; and Eu, for those interested in our older classification systems.

Each month, we will add more volumes, encompassing registration records and renewals, assignments, notices of use of musical compositions, and other related records. At this time, you can view the volumes with limited searchability; however, once the entire collection is digitized, the project will enter a new phase. In this next phase, our goal is to make the individual records searchable by incorporating them into the Office’s Copyright Public Records System, currently in public pilot.

What are some of the notable records we’ve digitized so far?

The millions of records digitized so far contain a wealth of cultural, historical, and iconic creative works. Here are just a few we’ve found:

Copyright application for Judy Blume's, Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret.
Copyright application for Judy Blume’s, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. Click the pic to go to record’s webpage. When there, click “Image” on the left to see a zoomable image of the full record.
  • Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston’s Farewell to Manzanar, a memoir about one family’s experiences with the Manzanar War Relocation Center during World War II; and
Copyright application for James D. Houston’s Farewell to Manzanar
Copyright application for Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston’s Farewell to Manzanar. Click the pic to go to record’s webpage. When there, click “Image” on the left to see a zoomable image of the full record.
  • Alex Haley’s Roots, a book that spent forty-four weeks on the New York Times Best Sellers list.

    Copyright record for Alex Haley’s Roots: The Saga of an American Family
    Copyright application for Alex Haley’s Roots: The Saga of an American Family. Click the pic to go to record’s webpage. When there, click “Image” on the left to see a zoomable image of the full record.

We encourage everyone to visit the Copyright Historical Record Books Collection, particularly the online components, and let us know about any significant personal, cultural, or historical records you find in the comments below. We can’t wait to hear from you!

Comments (5)

  1. Any plans to release datasets on kaggle or somewhere for the engineering and research community to explore it all in one sweep?

    • Hello. Once the data is parsed and available in the Copyright Public Records System, we will be exploring other ways to make it available.

  2. Me parece una labor de titanes y sin duda uno de los aportes mas grandes a la humanidad, poner el conocimiento y sentimiento humano al alcance de todos. En hora buena y gracias.
    It seems to me to be a work of titans and without a doubt one of the greatest contributions to humanity, making human knowledge and feeling available to everyone. In good time and thank you.

  3. I’ve read this article several times, but there does not seem to be a link where the actual scanned registrations can be searched and viewed.

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