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The New Digitized Copyright Historical Record Books Collection

In the background, a row of record books. On top of that is a screen capture of the Historical Record Books Collection website. On top of that is a copyright application from one of the books.The following is a guest post by Maren Read, deputy director of the Office of Copyright Records.

The first 500 books in the digitized Copyright Historical Record Books Collection are now available online. This collection is a preview of digitized historical record books that the Copyright Office plans to incorporate into its Copyright Public Record System (CPRS), currently in public pilot. This first release is part of a multi-year digitization project and includes applications for books registered with the Office from 1969 to 1977, with a majority being from 1975 to 1977. The collection is being digitized using the Copyright Office’s internal administrative classification system in reverse chronological order. In other words, the first digitized record books contain entries that used to be classified as Class A, but are now registered under the TX classification. Periodic updates will be made to the online collection as the record books are digitized.

The Historical Record Books Collection includes 26,278 bound volumes (over 26 million pages) of registration, renewal, assignment, notice of use of musical compositions, and patent records from 1870 to 1977. The Office is prioritizing digitizing records for works that are still under copyright protection. This project is part of a larger initiative within the Copyright Office to digitize and provide access to these public records not currently available online. Through digitization, the Office is also preserving these important historical and cultural records for future research. To find a specific registration record in the online collection, users will need to find the record book volume with the corresponding class and year. If the user knows, for example, the registration number they are seeking, the range of numbers located in each volume can be found in the collection item title.

Copyright application for Alex Haley’s Roots: The Saga of an American Family

Copyright application for Roots: The Saga of an American Family

Index card with registration information for Alex Haley's Roots: A Saga of an American Family

Index card for Alex Haley’s Roots: A Saga of an American Family

The documents within the historical record books are also indexed in the Copyright Card Catalog and available online in the Virtual Card Catalog, and limited groups are listed in the Catalog of Copyright Entries. In the future, the Office plans to develop metadata to allow users to search by fields, such as registration number, title, and claimant via the Copyright Public Records System.

As an example of how the collection can be searched, the Historical Public Records Team researched some of the most popular books published in 1976 and 1977 and located the index cards for the books in the Virtual Card Catalog. Using the registration number on the card, we found the corresponding record book and located the application. We show an example of one of the applications that we identified, Alex Haley’s Roots: The Saga of an American Family.

To learn more about the Historical Records Books Collection, please visit the collection website. Periodic updates will be provided as more record books are digitized and added to the collection. For more information on searching for copyright records, visit the Copyright Public Records Portal and view our Historical Public Records Program Update webinar from August 31, 2021.