The United States Copyright Office has implemented a new registration called Group Registration for Short Online Literary Works. It is designed to be an efficient and cost-effective option for registering multiple short works that have been published on a website or online platform.
Generally, an author must submit a separate application and pay a $45 filing fee for each work to be registered. Although registration can be completed online, the process creates a significant burden for authors with a large body of work. Many bloggers, social media influencers, and other authors of online works have not registered their work due to the time and cost involved. Without registration, they do not have full copyright protection.
With the new group registration option, an author may submit up to 50 online works of 50 to 17,500 words each with one application and one $65 filing fee. All works in the group must have been created by the same person or persons and published within a three-calendar-month period. The registration does not apply to works for hire or to emails, podcasts, audiobooks, or computer programs.
The Copyright Office began the rulemaking process in response to a joint petition by the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the Horror Writers Association, the National Writers Union, and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. The final rule, promulgated under 37 CFR § 202.4(j), went into effect on August 17, 2020.
A Website Is Not a Periodical
The organizations submitted the petition in response to a 2017 rulemaking that modified the eligibility requirements for the Group Registration of Contributions to Periodicals. The rule defined the term “periodical” as “a collective work that is issued or intended to be issued on an established schedule in successive issues that are intended to be continued indefinitely.” Typically, each issue of a periodical is designated by a number or date.
The Copyright Office noted that an author could register works that were originally published online if the publication met the definition of “periodical.”
Specifically, an ePrint publication may be considered a periodical for purposes of registration if it is fixed and distributed online or via email as a self-contained work, such as a digital version of a tangible newspaper, magazine, newsletter, or similar publication.
However, the proposed rulemaking specified that websites are not periodicals because they tend to be updated continually, and the updates are not issued as discrete works that are numbered or dated. Therefore, works published solely on a website would not qualify for Group Registration of Contributions to Periodicals.
The petition by the writers’ organizations notes that authors publish more work ‘‘in electronic format on the World Wide Web than in any other format or through any other distribution channel.’’ Because websites, blogs, and social media platforms are updated daily, submitting a separate application for each work is “prohibitively costly and time-consuming,” denying the authors “effective redress for infringement.”
Modernizing Copyright Law
Under 17 U.S.C. § 408(c)(1), Congress delegated authority to the Copyright Office to “specify by regulation the administrative classes into which works are to be placed for purposes of deposit and registration.” The regulations may provide for “a single registration for a group of related works.” As the legislative history explains, Congress recognized the need to liberalize copyright law by allowing group registrations.
The Copyright Office has used this authority to create group registration options for several types of works, including:
- Unpublished works
- Contributions to periodicals
- Unpublished photographs
- Published photographs
The Copyright Office continues to add and update regulations to address “emerging forms of digital dissemination of works across the spectrum of creative industries.” The new Group Registration for Short Online Literary Works arose from that effort.
When an author submits work as a group, the Copyright Office considers each work individually “to determine if it contains a sufficient amount of creative authorship.” A separate registration is issued for each work that meets the legal and formal requirements.
The new Group Registration for Short Online Literary Works applies to text only, limiting protection for authors who include multimedia content in their works. Authors may submit multimedia documents with their applications, but the copyright registration will cover only the textual portion.
Practical Considerations of Group Registration for Short Online Literary Works
Authors of short online works now have an incentive to register their work. Although any original work is automatically entitled to copyright protection, registration is required for the commencement of an infringement lawsuit. If a registration is issued prior to the alleged infringement, a plaintiff may also recover statutory damages and attorneys’ fees.
Bloggers and social media influencers may consider starting to review their contracts with businesses that buy their services. Standard contracts specify that the author’s output under the agreement is “work made for hire,” which means the work could not be registered using the new group registration. An author might consider negotiating new provisions that allow for a higher fee for registered works with assignment of copyrights to the buyer.*
Despite certain limitations, the Group Registration for Short Online Literary Works is a boon to authors who publish a large volume of work online. Bundling up to 50 works in a single registration application saves hundreds of dollars and a significant amount of time, while allowing these authors to obtain all the legal protections that come with copyright registration.
Learn More About Copyright Law
To learn more about copyright law and how to protect your works, visit the U.S. Copyright Office. You will also find copyright law awareness and education content on the site of the Copyright Society of the USA.
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