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Moving Forward: The Copyright Office During COVID-19

The following is a guest post by Maria Strong, the Acting Register of Copyrights.

Like many Americans, the Copyright Office staff and the Office as an organization are experiencing unprecedented challenges since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. To ensure the safety of staff and visitors, the Library of Congress closed its buildings to the public, including the one that houses the Office, until further notice. In light of this, plus ongoing health and safety guidance from the Library, the Office has taken steps to shut down on-site operations. Since the end of March, 98 percent of our staff have been teleworking. The buildings are open to staff on a restricted basis, only for essential activities with intermittent access approved by senior supervisors.

Despite these new realities, we are working hard to perform mission-critical functions with as little disruption as possible. We remain focused on the legal and policy work needed to serve Congress without interruption. We are examining many digital registration applications and recording certain documents like notices of termination and documents related to pre-1972 sound recordings. We are actively continuing our regulatory duties, assisting the Department of Justice with litigation matters, advising our interagency colleagues on international copyright and trade matters, working on copyright acquisitions, and administering the statutory licenses.

We also continue to provide outreach and education, although we have adjusted some of our practices. The Public Information Office is currently closed to in-person visitors, but we continue to handle thousands of phone calls and emails from the public each week. Additionally, we are holding two virtual events this month, a World Intellectual Property Day celebration on April 29 and a modernization webinar on April 30.

Copyright modernization development, planning, and progress continues. We are in the final testing phases of our recordation modernization pilot, which we expect will go live soon. We have updated our modernization webpage, which describes our ongoing projects.

There are, however, some unavoidable challenges. On March 26, we stopped receiving mail and other deliveries, meaning that incoming mail and other deliveries are being date-stamped, sealed in pallets, and shipped to our off-site facility. This mail stoppage will inevitably create a mail backlog, which will impact our divisions that rely on processing documents like incoming correspondence and paper-based applications and deposit materials. We cannot process paper-based recordation documents, but materials received will still receive their constructive date of recordation. We cannot produce or mail certificates, and outgoing paper correspondence has stopped. The limited access to Library buildings also affects off-site operations at our Landover Deposit Copies Storage Unit.

We are, however, taking steps to address the challenges that we can. So far, we have taken the following measures:

  • We are using the emergency authority granted by the CARES Act by exercising regulatory flexibility to adjust deadlines because of the nationwide economic and social impact of COVID-19 and the difficulty for affected parties to timely comply with formalities. We issued two notices that adjust timing provisions for filing registration applications, serving and recording notices of termination, and paper processing of certain documents associated with section 115. We are monitoring the situation and considering whether we need to take additional action.
  • To further facilitate electronic submissions, we issued a final rule to update regulations that previously required delivery by physical mail, including filing notices of termination for recordation, requests for reconsideration of refusals to register, and requests for removal of personally identifiable information from the public record. It permits the Office to offer an electronic option for those services. That same day, the Office also posted information identifying certain services for which we are accepting receipt by email at this time.
  • We are using existing regulatory authority to increase flexibility for examination of electronic registration claims associated with physical deposit copies and mitigate some of these delays and their impact on the effective date of registration (when we receive an application, deposit, and fee). We have posted instructions for those submitters who might want to use this new flexibility. There is a similar accommodation to allow registration specialists to examine claims requiring special handling.

To make sure you have access to this information, we have dedicated a part of our website to how the pandemic is impacting our services and what changes we have made during this time. For real-time updates, we recommend that you subscribe to our NewsNet service.

The staff of the Copyright Office is working hard to maintain services during the pandemic. We understand how difficult this challenging time is for the public and we are dedicated to continuing our work for the nation’s benefit. From our family to yours, we extend our good wishes for the health and safety of all.