U.S. Copyright Office
Strategic Plan 2002-2006

Part 1  The Mission and Functions of the U.S. Copyright Office


The mission of the Copyright Office is to promote creativity by administering and sustaining an effective national copyright system.

The American Law of Copyright

It is a principle of American law, provided for in the Constitution, that an author of a work has certain rights to his or her intellectual creativity for a limited period of time. Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States for "original works of authorship," including literary, dramatic, musical, architectural, choreographic, pantomimic, pictorial, graphic, sculptural, and audiovisual creations. Copyright protection does not extend to any idea, procedure, process, slogan, principle, or discovery. Over time, "copyright" has come to mean the bundle of exclusive rights granted by statute to authors for protection of their work.

The owner of a copyright has the exclusive right to reproduce, distribute, and, in the case of certain works, publicly perform or display his or her work; to prepare derivative works; and to authorize others to engage in the same acts under specific terms and conditions. These exclusive rights are balanced by a limitation on their duration, which is generally the life of the last surviving author of a work plus seventy years. There are also limitations such as "fair use" and the "compulsory license" under which certain uses of copyrighted works are permitted. Maintaining this balance between the rights of copyright owners and the benefits to the public in the use of copyrighted works is the primary goal that has guided changes in the Copyright Act as it has been expanded to include new types of creative works and adjusted to address new technologies.

Functions of the U. S. Copyright Office

Administration of the U.S. Copyright Law

Congress enacted the first federal copyright law in May 1790. The law has been revised periodically. In 1870, the requirement to deposit works registered for copyright in a single location established a centralized national copyright function in the Library of Congress. The registration and deposit of works for copyright protection have served two purposes: to create a record of copyright registration as legal evidence and to enrich the collections of the Library of Congress for the benefit of the American people.

Congress has given the Copyright Office the authority and responsibility for administering the nation's copyright laws. This responsibility includes:

Registration of claims to copyright · Copyright claimants submit works to be registered to the Office. The works are examined to determine the presence of copyrightable authorship and to see that other legal and formal requirements have been met. When a work is registered, the Office issues a certificate of registration and creates a public record of the registration.

The law provides incentives to registration. Legal rights granted by copyright are better enforced in the federal court system once registration is made. Timely registration secures certain legal remedies in a legal action for copyright infringement; the registration certificate is prima facie evidence that the factual claims made in the registration certificate are true and that the copyright is valid; and registration makes a public record of the claim.

Copies of works submitted for registration may be selected by the Library of Congress for its collections. Since 1870, copyright deposits have formed the core of the Library's "Americana" collections, and they continue to serve as the mint record of American creativity.

The Office's registration records assist the public to find the copyright owner of individual works.

Recordation · Documents relating to a copyright, including transfers of ownership and security interests, are submitted to the Copyright Office to create a public record of such actions. The Office verifies that the document is recordable, a certificate of recordation is issued, and a public record of the action is created. These records allow the public to track changes in ownership of copyrighted works.

Mandatory Deposit · The Copyright Act provides that every copyrightable work published in the United States be sent to the Copyright Office within three months of publication for possible inclusion in the Library's collections. While many works are received through copyright registration, this provision ensures that those works that the Library wants for its collections and that are not submitted for registration can be acquired. The Office requests works under this provision in response to requests from the Library's acquisitions librarians.

Licensing · The Office handles administrative provisions of the nine statutory licenses and obligations of the Copyright Act, including those involving secondary transmission by cable television systems and satellite carriers. For certain licenses, the Office collects specified royalty fees for disbursement to copyright owners. It also records voluntary licensing agreements between copyright owners and specified users of their works. Licensing documents submitted for a statutory or compulsory license are examined to determine that they meet the requirements of the Act.

Policy Assistance, Regulatory Activities, and Litigation

The Copyright Office is the primary source in the U.S. government for legal and technical advice on copyright matters. It assists the Congress, executive branch agencies, and the judiciary on copyright and related issues.

The Congress · As part of the legislative branch, the Office works closely with the Congress in providing objective, nonpartisan analysis and recommendations on national and international copyright issues. As Congress considers the complex copyright issues involved in the growth of digital technology and computer networks, it has tasked the Copyright Office with study and rulemaking responsibilities to address these issues. For example, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act was signed into law on October 28, 1998, and gave the Copyright Office responsibility for conducting several studies on various subjects related to technology control and use. Legislation enacted in the period covered by this strategic plan may give the Office significant additional responsibilities.

Executive Branch Agencies · The Office regularly consults with executive branch agencies on copyright issues, particularly international matters. The Office participates as a member of U.S. delegations in meetings of international organizations, multilateral negotiations, and bilateral consultations and negotiations.

The Judiciary · Although the Office does not enforce the provisions of title 17, it may be involved in litigation in several ways. It can choose to intervene under section 411(a) in a case where registration has been refused. It may be sued under the Administrative Procedure Act. Or it may be asked to participate in litigation either by assisting in the preparation of an amicus curiae brief in support of a particular position, by assisting the Department of Justice in defending a particular action, or by bringing a suit under section 407 to compel the deposit of a work.

Public Information and Education

With new digital technology, more people have the opportunity to use, copy, and distribute copyrighted works, and thus engage in behavior that implicates copyright law. As such, there is a growing need for clear, accurate information about copyright principles and law.

The Office responds to public requests for information and engages in outreach programs to inform the public discussion of copyright issues.

Management Initiatives

To provide new and more timely public services, the Office is undertaking a major transformation of its internal processes. Two principal initiatives are part of this effort: Business Process Reengineering (BPR) and a new Information Technology (IT) infrastructure.

Business Process Reengineering

The Office has begun an extensive multi-year effort to reengineer its principal public services, which are registering claims, recording documents, acquiring deposited works, answering public requests, maintaining records, and accounting.

A plan to implement the reengineering options has been completed. The plan decreases movement of physical objects and focuses primarily on electronic processing. The reengineering plan requires the use of new information technology.

These technology requirements will be addressed through a new and integrated Copyright Office information technology infrastructure.

Information Technology

The Copyright Office relies on accurate and timely information to fulfill its duties under the Copyright Act. Information processing and products are critical to these duties. Access to information is also important for the Office's policy and regulatory work for the U.S. Congress and the executive branch

The Copyright Office will unify its information technology systems in an integrated package of interoperable modules. In order to serve its customers fully, the Office must have its services available online to the greatest extent possible.

In the next few years, the Copyright Office will make a transition to primarily electronic delivery of services, while remaining capable of processing hard copy objects within that electronic environment.

The creation of innovative methods for registering works, cataloging them, and making an electronic public record rapidly accessible will position the Copyright Office to address the fast-paced electronic commerce environment of the 21st century.

The long-term outcome of the Copyright Office's work and the strategic directions taken in the next five years will support the constitutional goals of encouraging American creativity and protecting the educational, cultural, and economic prosperity such creativity engenders.

Enabling Infrastructure

To accomplish its mission, the Office must have an efficient and effective infrastructure. The Office relies on the human resources, security infrastructure, and facilities of the Library of Congress. Through cooperative efforts between the Office and the organizational units of the Library that are tasked with responsibility for key infrastructure support, the Office carries out these key activities:

Workforce Development that recruits, trains, and develops employees for optimal performance.

Management Controls and Supportthat ensure compliance with laws and regulations, safeguard assets, and meet human resource requirements.

Workplace Safety and Functionality that protect employees and fulfill space and equipment needs.

Strategic Plan | Chapter 2