Copyright Office in Logjam

Posted on 5/20/2009 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

The Washington Post reports that it is taking an average of 18 months for hard-copy copyright-registration applications to be cleared since the U.S. Copyright Office implemented its new electronic application system last July. It takes six months to process an electronic application, despite the fact that the system was supposed to be able to do it in one month.

The $52 million electronic system was supposed to speed copyright registration, but it seems to be doing the opposite. According to The Post, “workers say the electronic system is slow and prone to crashing. Managers say the challenge has been retraining staff to use the system. The union that represents the copyright workers, Library of Congress Professional Guild, AFSCME Local 2910, faults management for dismantling the paper system while the pubic is still using paper.”

The Copyright Office receives about 10,000 applications a week, 45% of which are in hard copy. The staff of 115 registration specialists can process about 7,000 a week, leaving 3,000 a week to be added to the growing pile of about 523,000 untouched applications. Workers are now handling paper applications that were received in 2007.

David J. Christopher, associate chief operating officer of the Copyright Office, acknowledged to the Post that the office has been understaffed, but says the backlog cannot be solved with temporary workers, because it takes a year to train a registration specialist. They have recently hired 17 new specialists.

It is possible to expedite an application for a $685 “special handling fee.” The normal electronic application fee is $35, and the paper fee is currently $45. However, the Copyright Office plans to raise the paper fee to $65 in August.

It seems obvious that submitting registration applications electronically is the wisest course of action, but that’s not always as easy as it sounds. The Post printed a copy of an email from a children’s book author that the copyright office received in March. It read: “What the hell is the matter with that [expletive] software of yours? I’ve spend more than three hours and a ton of grief trying to register my literary work and upload it. That [expletive] told me at least four times that an error had occurred and then stopped dead. Why? Who sold you that [expletive] and why did you buy it?”

Copyright © 2009 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to:  


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