I’m a big fan of the whole “paperless society” thing, as my Kindle will attest to. Going electronic saves time, money, and resources – unless you’re dealing with the US government.
Every few years I register a new album with the United States Copyright Office, and every time I wonder if I’m supposed to submit a Form PA or a Form SR, or both. After a little research, I submit a Form SR, but also list “Words and Music” under “Nature of Authorship.” This time I got lazy. Six months after release, I still hadn’t registered my latest album, or last month’s follow-up EP. Today I decided to get ‘er done, so I headed over to copyright.gov and discovered a new Electronic Copyright Office option.
You’re probably wondering why I waited so long. Couldn’t someone have stolen my songs? I suppose so, but I’ve never heard of it happening. Without turning this into a legal treatise, a work is copyrighted when it is put into tangible form. The US Copyright Office merely documents that copyright, which could come in handy if you ever have to sue someone for lost income (see Coldplay vs. Joe Satriani).
Online registration is so tedious and convoluted, it could only have been created by a government bureaucracy. What could’ve been accomplished with a single interactive form is instead spread across ten sections that are listed in what appears to be a navigation window to the right of the page. Unfortunately, that window only functions as a progress display. To get from one section to the next, you have to use the “back” and “next” buttons at the top of each page. Every click costs 5-10 seconds in page loading time.
In the Electronic Copyright Office (eCo for short), you don’t file a form. Instead you “open a case.” Way to make the process less intimidating! After choosing what type of work to register, you need to give that work a title. This requires its own screen. First, you select a title type. Trying hard not to overthink it, I selected “title of work being registered” from the drop-down menu. After entering the name of the album, I was given the choice to add another title (apparently for the same work, not a separate registration) or save. After saving, I clicked the “next” button to continue to the next page. You get the idea.
At one point, I was presented with a series of checkboxes to select what aspects of the work I was claiming authorship of. I selected the sound recording, production, performance, text of the liner notes, and in the “other” box put “words and music.” When I got to the review screen, I realized I’d be able to submit the work electronically rather than send in a CD. I wasn’t sure they’d accept a text file of the liner notes as proof of authorship, so I decided to remove my claim to that aspect of the work, just to be safe. After five minutes clicking through the “back” and “next” buttons, I realized that the series of checkboxes was never going to reappear. I ended up deleting myself as the author, and then re-adding myself. That did the trick.
When it was time to pay, I was shuttled off to another site to enter my financial info. I submitted the payment form and a “now processing” screen came up. And stayed there. Eventually, an error message appeared (mind you, I’m running Firefox, not IE):
Your Siebel shortcut cannot be opened in this window. Please drag and drop your Siebel shortcut to a window where Siebel is already running. If you want a second Siebel window, please select the Internet Explorer Browser icon from your Desktop or select the Internet Explorer Browser option from your Programs list to create a new window. You may then drag and drop the Siebel shortcut to this new window.
How reassuring! I risked a double-charge by using the “back” button on my browser and resending the information. A blank page came up. I wasn’t going to risk submitting my financial info a third time, so I went back to copyright.gov and logged in to eCO, where the two titles were listed under “open cases.” Next to each, under the heading “Action Needed,” were white flags. Hmm… I’d guess if an action were needed, the flags would be red?
Fortunately, both registrations are listed as paid, and uploading the mp3 files was relatively painless. I think I’m good, but I won’t know for sure until I receive the forms in the mail in a few months.
If you’re going to bother registering your works with the US Copyright Office, I suggest you skip eCo. Another option is the new fill-in Form CO. Maybe it’s easier than the old forms, but I wouldn’t count on it!
UPDATE 11/4/09: I received my certificates of registration today, less than six months after registering my latest album and EP. My memory may be faulty, but that seems pretty much on par with the previous six registrations I’ve filed.