electronic copyright office

The Electronic Copyright Office

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.


  1. Interesting article in the Washington Post on the subject:


    Apparently their current backlog is 16 months, because of the new electronic system! The author of the article makes a number of misguided legal statements though, like this one:

    “An artist doesn’t need to register a copyright to perform, publish or display an original work. But a claim filed with the government offers legal protection — it is the only way to stop someone else from copying a work. ”

    It’s simply not true. Registration may help validate your claim in court, but legally, you own the copyright the minute you set it in some tangible form.

  2. Brian,

    I laughed as I read your post about the new e-file copyright system because while I recently tried to register some works through it, I thought, “Man, I must be the only idiot who thinks this thing is a convoluted mess!” I mean, it couldn’t have possibly gone through all phases of development and testing, and have it approved by everybody and their mother at the copyright office if it wasn’t really good.

    Why couldn’t they have subbed this job out to people who actually know how to create systems that make sense? Probably because they wanted to pay their guys 5 times the going rate! Or, maybe I’m just getting too cynical. 🙂

    I finally got the hang of it, but I can’t tell you how many times I considered pulling out the old forms. But, since the price hike in August will mean that physical registration will cost twice as much, I thought I’d better figure it out!


  3. Brian,

    Declaration submitted the ten songs from its second album, ‘Expectation’, to the US Copyright Office back in May of 2008 — in the old, nonelectronic format. As of yet no certificate of registration has been forwarded to me — it’s been over 14 months!

  4. Holy S**t, this is ridiculous. This is the first time I’ve ever posted a comment and it is a definite negative comment. I usually file my copyrights with provemycopyright.com. It’s clean, easy and a monkey like me can do it within 3 deep breaths. But for my really important stuff, I use the US Copyright. I was looking forward to the ease of electronic filing, WAS I WRONG!!!!!
    Two hours later, I’ve made it to the “Deposit Upload” section. (what does that mean? They can’t even pull off an oxymoron right.) And it crashed.
    Ed, you couldn’t have said better. I mean, they can’t even pull off a “cash for clunkers program”!!!

  5. In related news:

    USPTO Takes Another Step Closer to Full Electronic Patent Application Processing

    WASHINGTON – The Commerce Department’s United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) announced today the implementation of the e-Office Action program following a successful pilot project. Under the program, patent applicants receive an e-mail notification of office communications instead of paper mailings. An e-mail is sent to program participants when new office communications are available for viewing and downloading in Private PAIR, the patent application information retrieval system that allows applicants electronic access to the entire file history of their applications.

    In other words, the agency in charge of protecting your critically important patents and copyrights has just discovered e-mail!

    Read all about it.

  6. I’m trying to submit a file for copyright too and can’t get the upload to work, it always sees my file as 0kbytes and never actually uploads. Any ideas?

  7. THANK YOU SO MUCH for posting this information! I got the exact same message about:
    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.

    I clicked on RE-SEND thinking that everytime I did this, my credit card was going to be charged again – and it kept coming up with a blank window. Anyway – thanks for writing that your claim did in fact go thru – i went back and checked and it says fee paid so that’s good.

    They REALLY need to hire someone to make this process easier – it was ridiculous.

  8. I had the same problem. When I clicked OK on the pop-up, I got a blank page (before I was able to upload my file), so I called technical. No more than a minute wait, and I got a nice guy who helped me. I was working in Fire Fox, so I left the blank page, and opened IE browser. I logged into my Copyright account, found my case number, and saw that I had only been charged once. Then I clicked on the case number which sent me to a screen where I was able to click on a tab at the top of the page, which allowed me to upload my file. This is the second time I have had a problem with the website. The first time, my case said that payment was pending in one place, but payment received in another. That time, I called and again, spoke to a nice guy who actually worked on that problem for a couple of weeks, calling me periodically to keep me updated until it was resolved. The site may have some problems, but their customer service has been great so far. So if you have a problem, call them.

  9. I couldn’t agree more with the comments and frustrations over the convoluted eCO system! GEEZ. It was a drag to go through it, and when I got stuck at the same “Siebel” error message, I did a little searching and that’s how I came across your article. I’m adding this comment in hopes that MAYBE some of this energy will lead back to eCO and they’ll figure out the current system STINKS!! And hopefully they will make it easier, cause we all know it could definitely be more interactively friendly and efficient! Someone please help!!

  10. i went thru the process in july.
    some how figured out how to complete w/the seibel message.
    now i’m back to square one.
    when i receive that message how do i proceed?

  11. 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.

  12. I have registered several things with the eCO and other than being redundant and inefficient as far as the flow from page to page its been okay. I like the fact that it saves me a little bit of money to register thru the eCO vs the old form. But one problem I have determined is dont forget your user ID and password! Just the other day logged on to register 2 new works and discovered that I didnt have my password catalog with me. Tried everything I can think of but forgot about the “Special Character” that you have to put in the password! So I tried the “Forgot Password/Reset Password” Option, put in the USER ID which I new was correct and the email that I get all of my email notifications too for the registrations and it told me there was no USER ID or Account on File to match the information submitted. Just for kicks and giggles, after finally decoding the password by going through to set up a new account with all the same info and it told me the password requirements I was able to determine the password! A Whole HOUR spent trying to get logged in, after that took about 20 minutes to get the whole thing completed! So be careful – if you forget or misplace your password, be ready to start a new account because for atleast now their Forgot Password function isnt worth a darn!

    1. This is ancient, but did you ever figure out a way to recover a lost User ID? I have tried every conceivable username I would ever use and no luck. Without the correct UserID am I left to just creating a new account? I have a pet peeve about having to create multiple redundant accounts because backend dev is too underfunded to get their UX into the 21st century.

  13. First: Like other writers/artists responding to the eCO mess it’s so great to know that I am not the only one who was made crazy by it. ESPECIALLY the hope crushing “Seibel” notice at the end.
    Second: From what I’ve read above it doesn’t mean my screenplay was not registered. Right? Yes?
    Third: Can anyone out there help me with the fact that NOWHERE ON THE FORM DID THEY ASK ME TO ACTUALLY SEND MY SCREENPLAY!
    What do I do next? Anybody have an answer you can contact me at [email protected]. Seriously.
    Fourth: A vent. Not to over generalize but we’re artists and except for a very few of the creative friends I have most of us have a hard time with the linear/cybe/techno world (Read: ADHD).
    Fifth: The next cold, vicious, arts hating villain I create will be named Seibel.Unless somebody figures out how to copyright it first.

  14. It’s been so long since I’ve done this, I don’t remember all the specifics. I do remember that it “took” even after seeing the Siebel notice. If you try to log in again, you should hopefully the transaction listed as paid.

    Good luck with your new screenplay. Maybe the protagonist should be Rightbrain.

  15. Thanks for the post! I just had the same thing happen and your blog reassuringly popped up when I tried to search what on earth a siebel shortcut was. best of luck!

  16. I filed a claim 7 months ago (paid and uploaded and have “open” status) and still not received any response from them, any comments?

  17. I’d wait a few more months and then call.

    There’s an article on the Electronic Copyright Office in the new issue of Recording Magazine. I haven’t read through it yet, but from a quick skim, it looks like the author had many of the same problems.

  18. I finally tried this ECO process and it was tedious!!! It’s after 3 am and I am just finishing, albeit I started around 2 a.m. We shall see if this is faster than the paper process for musical works.

  19. I cannot get the upload to work. I’ve tried everything I can think of and nothing is working for me. My IE is version 8 and the copyright office is set up to accept version 6. This is very nerve-wracking.

  20. Stupid question, but do you need to sign a form for each song, or just the album? I'm guessing that if you got the album copywrited then it would extend to the songs on there. I've never done this before, so I just want to be sure.

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