What Do These Acronyms Mean? A Beginner’s Guide to Acronyms Used in the Copyright Universe


Photo Credit: iStock/Roman Didkivskyi

Creators, lawyers, and industry executives alike all use acronyms—those sometimes-ambiguous combinations of capital letters that have become so pervasive that oftentimes even the people who frequently use them have forgotten what they mean. What is intended as shorthand references to save time really only saves time for those already “in the know.” Many new creators, students, and professionals who are unfamiliar with these acronyms may look at those letters and simply be lost or confused. If you’ve ever found yourself researching a copyright or media issue and come across a smattering of letters seemingly arbitrarily put together, fear not, because you are in the right place.

Below we identify and explain various acronyms that are commonly used in the copyright world.

Internet and Technology Acronyms:

CMI = Copyright Management Information

Copyright management information is information conveyed in connection with copies or phonorecords of a work. As defined in 17 U.S.C. § 1202(c), CMI may include such information as:

  • titles or other identifying information about the copyrighted work;
  • the name or identity of the work’s author;
  • the name or identity of the copyright owner;
  • the name of the performer whose performance is fixed in a work;
  • the name or identity of the writer, performer, or director of an audiovisual work;
  • terms and conditions for use of the work; and
  • identifying numbers or symbols referring to such information.

CPRS = Copyright Public Records System

The CPRS is the first step towards implementing the Enterprise Copyright System (ECS, discussed below). As the name suggests, the CPRS is a public record database that allows users to search copyright records such as authors, publishers, claimants, or copyright numbers. The program runs parallel with the Copyright Public Catalog and contains the same information but offers a more powerful search engine with easier-to-use filtering capabilities. As with the Copyright Public Catalog, the database only contains information from 1978 to the present.

DMCA = Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act is a law enacted in 1998 that implemented international copyright treaties and reformed the digital copyright landscape in the United States. Key provisions of the DMCA established sections 512, 1201, and 1202 of the Copyright Act.

  • Section 512 of the DMCA was designed to incentivize OSPs to cooperate with copyright owners to combat infringement online. One of the features of Section 512 most commonly known by creators and the public is the notice and takedown process that allows copyright owners to inform online service providers about copyright infringements on their platforms so that the service providers take down the infringing material. Section 512 provides a safe harbor to service providers that immunizes them from potential copyright infringement liability from their users infringing activities if they take down the infringing material identified in the takedown notices and comply other requirements of section 512.
  • Section 1201 protects copyrighted works through its anti-circumvention and anti-trafficking provisions. The anti-circumvention provisions prohibit circumvention of technological protection measures (TPMs, see more below) used by copyright owners to protect their works. The anti-trafficking provisions prohibit the making, offering, providing or trafficking in of devices or services that are used to circumvent TPMs that control access to copyrighted works.
  • Section 1202 protects the integrity of copyright management information (CMI) found on digital files (see below for more information on CMIs). This section prohibits knowingly providing or distributing false copyright management information, or intentionally removing or altering such information.

DRM = Digital Rights Management

Digital Rights Management is often a form of technological protection measure that restricts access to or modification of content. These are commonly found in the entertainment industry. Examples include requiring an online licensing “handshake” in order to access content, or other software that restricts how certain content can be read or used.

eCO = Electronic Copyright Office System

The eCO is an online portal that allows users to register their copyrights after creating a free account. Advantages of using the eCO include lower fees for basic claims, online payment, faster processing time, and online status tracking of the registration. Users are also able to upload certain categories of deposits directly to the Copyright Office to fulfill deposit requirements. The system is available 24 hours a day except during routine maintenance on Sunday mornings.

ECS = Enterprise Copyright System

As part of its effort to modernize, the Copyright Office is developing a new enterprise IT system called the Enterprise Copyright System. The core functions of the system, once fully implemented, will include registration, recordation, public record, and licensing IT applications. Additionally, the ECS will include central capabilities for business services that enhance user experience with a centered, flexible design. The first component of the ECS, the Copyright Public Records System (CPRS) (see above) launched in December of 2020.

OSPs = Online Service Providers

Online Service Providers as defined by the DMCA are “entit[ies] offering the transmission, routing, or providing of connections for digital online communications, between or among points specified by a user, of material of the user’s choosing, without modification to the content of the material as sent or received” and “a provider of online services or network access, or the operator of facilities, therefore. Meaning that when it comes to the DMCA, OSPs have a very broad meaning. The term can apply to everything from the large internet providers, message boards, social media sites, blog sites, or any other website that allows for users to post content. 

STM = Standard Technical Measures

Standard technical measures are standardized tools that copyright owners, platforms, and other stakeholders can use to identify or protect against infringement of their copyrighted content. Examples of STMs include YouTube’s Content ID and Facebook’s Rights Manager. At this time, these and other technologies are not officially recognized as STMs under the DMCA because under the DMCA a “standard technical measure”, requires the technology to be both vetted and approved by a “broad consensus of copyright owners and service providers in an open, fair, voluntary, multi-industry standards process” and service providers have refused to engage in this standard setting process.

TPM = Technological Protection Measure

A Technological Protection Measure (TPM) is a protection measure that is used to control whether and how content may be used and to prevent misuse. There are two kinds of TPMs: access control measures, which establishes who can get access to a work and under what circumstances, and copy control measures, which establishes what can and cannot be done with the work. Some types of TPMs include:

  • passwords;
  • paywalls;
  • registration keys;
  • technologies that limits on the number of users or period of time a user can access the content;
  • technologies that prevent downloading or altering the work (e.g., read-only capability); and
  • watermarks.

Additionally, the DMCA has a provision that makes it illegal to circumvent TPMs, as discussed above.

Copyright Laws and Terms Found in the Laws:

AMFA = American Music Fairness Act

Currently, sound recordings copyrights have no right for public performance over broadcast radio. The American Music Fairness Act is a bill that aims to remedy this by granting sound recording copyrights a right of public performance over broadcast radio.

BCIA = Berne Convention Implementation Act

The Berne Convention is an international agreement that was formally signed in Berne, Switzerland in 1886 that laid the groundwork for modern copyright law. Specifically, it mandated concepts such as creating a copyright when a work is fixed rather than at registration, as well created moral rights for authors. Until 1988, the United States refused to join the convention. The Berne Convention Implementation Act was passed in 1988, which formally made the U.S. a party to the Berne Convention.

CASE Act = Copyright Alternatives in Small-Claims Enforcement Act

The Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement Act is a copyright law that created a small claims tribunal called the Copyright Claims Board (“CCB”) within the U.S. Copyright Office to handle small copyright claims. More on the Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement act, can be found on our blog titled CASE Act Signed Into Law: What This Means.

MLC = Mechanical Licensing Collective

The Mechanical Licensing Collective was set up by the Music Modernization Act. It is a government-commissioned entity that collects mechanical license royalties from music services and pays them to copyright owners. It also created a public searchable database for the public to find music copyright information, and for musicians to link song copyrights to sound recording copyrights.

MMA = Music Modernization Act

The Music Modernization Act is a copyright law that was designed to modernize copyright law and make statutory licensing fairer for creators and copyright owners, while also making it more efficient for digital music providers. It does this through the implementation of several new mechanisms and protections

First and perhaps most importantly, it includes an improvement to how songwriters are compensated by creating a blanket digital mechanical license and government-commissioned collective to administer the license. This blanket license allows service providers such as Spotify to pay royalties for permanent or limited downloads and interactive streams of musical works at a compulsory rate, meaning they do not need to negotiate licenses on a song-by-song basis. However, because all the royalties are paid to the newly commissioned Mechanical Licensing Collective (MLC), service providers must pay and report the royalties regardless of if they know whom to pay them to. This benefits copyright owners who have large amounts of unpaid royalties, because they are able to claim them centrally through the MLC rather than track down royalties from every user.

Second, the act extends federal protection to sound recordings made prior to 1972. Before passage of the act, individual sound recordings made prior to 1972 were only protected under a patchwork of state laws, since federal sound recording copyrights were only granted after 1972. The MMA now enables these artists who recorded music or own pre-1972 sound recordings to be paid royalties when their music is played on digital radio.

The last big takeaway from the act is that it enables studio professionals to receive royalties for the contributions they made to creating music. This allows music producers, mixers, and sound engineers to be paid when the sound recordings they worked on are performed digitally.

For more information on the MMA, see our summary of the law for a more comprehensive analysis.

NET Act = No Electronic Theft Act

The No Electronic Theft Act amended federal copyright law in 1997 that allows criminal prosecution for willful copyright infringement for purposes of commercial advantage or financial gain. Importantly, the NET Act amended the definition of “commercial advantage or financial gain” to broadly include “receipt, or expectation of receipt, of anything of value, including receipt of other copyrighted works.”

NOI = Notice of Inquiry

When an administrative office of the government looks to create new rules or processes, the agency will often precede the rulemaking with a notice of inquiry. The NOI invites public comments for a set period that then allows the agency to make better, more-informed decisions for their proposed rules with comments from interested stakeholders. Notices and proposed rules alike can be searched for here.

NPRM = Notice of Proposed Rulemaking

The notice of proposed rulemaking is a required public notice that administrative agencies must issue when aiming to add, remove, or change a rule or regulation. This part of the rulemaking process is integral to creating balanced rules affecting interested parties. NPRMs are published in the Federal Register, and are typically accompanied by a 60-day public comment period. Proposed rules typically contain specific questions that drafters have for the public on wording and other rule content.

PLSA = Protecting Lawful Streaming Act

The Protecting Lawful Streaming Act was signed into law in December of 2020. It significantly increased criminal penalties for many illegal streamers; previously, most penalties were misdemeanors. Now, those who willfully and for commercial advantage illegally stream copyrighted material (and meet the other statutory requirements) may be subject to felony charges.

PRO = Performing Rights Organizations

Performing Rights Organizations are organizations that administer public performance licenses for copyright owners or administrators such as songwriters. PROs offer “blanket licenses” to customers such as venues and restaurants. A blanket license from a PRO usually gives someone a license to play any music from artists signed onto that PRO with one simple transaction.

PRO IP Act = Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property Act

The PRO IP Act was passed in 2008, and it increased both civil and criminal penalties for copyright infringement. The main provisions of the act raised maximum penalties and statutory damages for infringement, made it illegal to export material that infringes on a copyright, and established the Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator (IPEC) within the Executive Office of the President to coordinate anti-infringement efforts with various government agencies.

STELA = Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act

Congress has previously granted statutory licenses that allow satellite TV companies to retransmit broadcasts to their consumers. The Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act updated and reauthorized these statutory licenses, as well as amended and simplified some licensing processes. The statutory licenses were again reauthorized until 2019 in the SETLA Reauthorization Act of 2014 (STELAR). Most recently, the Satellite Television Community Protection and Promotion Act of 2019 (STCPPA) made the statutory signal license found in section 119 of the Copyright Act (17 U.S.C. § 119) permanent.

USC = United States Code

The United States Code is the consolidation and codification of permanent federal law. Subject matters are arranged into titles, with copyrights being Title 17. Within each title are subdivisions of sections relating to specific laws. When a bill is passed, it is then incorporated into the USC and its respective titles and sections by the Office of the Law Revision Counsel of the United States House of Representatives.

WFH or WMFH = Work Made for Hire

A work made for hire is a type of copyrighted work that was made at the instance and expense of a hiring party. This is usually an employer or someone who commissions a work. When a work is a work made for hire, the author of the copyrighted work, and thus the works initial owner, is legally the party that did the hiring, e.g., an employer or the commissioner of a work. The law defines a work made for hire as either:

  • a work prepared by an employee within the scope of their employment, or
  • a work specially ordered or commissioned for use as one of nine categories.

These nine categories are:

  • a contribution to a collective work;
  • a part of a motion picture or audiovisual work;
  • a translation;
  • a supplementary work;
  • a compilation;
  • an instructional text;
  • a test;
  • answer material for a test; or
  • an atlas.

Additionally, under the current Copyright Act, a commissioned work made for hire requires an express agreement in written form that the work is considered a work made for hire.

International and U.S. Government Entities:

CCB = Copyright Claims Board

The Copyright Claims Board is a small claims tribunal created by the CASE act. The CCB board is appointed by the Librarian of Congress and will be administered by three officers. The board is empowered to hear cases, issue decisions, and order the payment of damages for copyright infringement, much like federal courts. While creators can bring cases in federal court, the CCB is intended for smaller copyright claims—max damages are $15,000 per work, 1/10th of federal statutory maximums—and the process is optional for all parties involved. The benefit to the CCB over federal court, however, is significantly lower legal costs for all parties, making it a better and more affordable option for smaller businesses and creators.

DOC = Department of Commerce

The Department of Commerce is a department of the U.S. federal government that is tasked with promoting job creation, economic growth, sustainable development, and improved standards of living for Americans. The department is home to several bureaus and offices, including the USPTO.

IPEC = Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator

The Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator, sometimes referred to as the “IP Czar,” is an office that was created by Congress in 2008 to advance growth, promote innovation, and ensure effective intellectual property enforcement. The IPEC works with agencies and departments in the Executive Branch of the federal government to address intellectual property issues such as online piracy.

TRIPS = Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights

The TRIPS agreement is an international agreement between all member states of the World Trade Organization that sets minimum standards of regulation for various forms of intellectual property. The agreement mandates that member states provide protection and enforcement of other member states’ copyrights, patents, trademarks, and other form of intellectual property rights. The agreement also provides for enforcement and dispute resolution procedures, as well as specifies remedies.

UCC = Universal Copyright Convention

The Universal Copyright Convention was developed as an alternative to the Berne Convention by member states—mostly developing countries worried about the imbalance of IP imports—that wished to have multilateral copyright protection with other states but did not agree with or want to participate in the Berne Convention. While being a multilateral copyright agreement similar to the Berne Convention, the UCC has slightly different requirements; namely, formal copyright notice requirements and an exclusive right of translation subject to compulsory license. The United States was initially a member of the UCC prior to joining the Berne Convention, but is now a member of both. However, the Berne Convention takes priority where the two conventions differ.

USCO = United States Copyright Office

The United States Copyright Office is a part of the Library of Congress, which is in the legislative branch. The Office is led by the Register of Copyrights who is tasked with maintaining the registration of copyrights in the United States, providing information to the public, and assisting Congress and other parts of the government on a wide range of copyright policy issues.

USPTO = United States Patent and Trademark Office

The United States Patent and Trademark Office is an agency in the Department of Commerce that, somewhat unsurprisingly, administers and issues patents and trademarks. The office employs thousands of patent and trademark examining lawyers who review and administer applications. Because the Copyright Office is located within the legislative branch and the Executive branch wants to have input on copyright policy matters, especially international copyright issues, the USPTO maintains a staff of copyright attorneys in their Office of Policy and International Affairs (OPIA) that is tasked with taking on certain copyright issues.

USTR = United States Trade Representative

The Office of the United States Trade Representative is a federal government agency comprised of more than 200 employees that is part of the Executive Office of the President. The Trade Representative, currently Katherine Tai, is part of the president’s cabinet, and she advises the president and negotiates with foreign governments to create trade agreements, resolve disputes, and engage in meetings with various business groups and governments to gather input. Often times these activities involve copyright issues. For example, the USTR releases an annual report on global intellectual property protection. Information about the most recent 2020 report is available here.

WCT = WIPO Copyright Treaty

The WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) Copyright Treaty is an agreement under the Berne Convention that protects works in the digital world. The treaty extended subject matter of copyright to computer programs as well as compilations of data whose arrangement constitute intellectual creations. The treaty also requires members of the treaty to grant the right of distribution, rental, and communication to the public in addition to the rights recognized by the Berne Convention.

WIPO = World Intellectual Property Organization

The World Intellectual Property Organization is an agency of the United Nations with 193 member states. The two main objectives of WIPO are “to promote the protection of intellectual property worldwide, and to ensure administrative cooperation among intellectual property unions established by treaties that WIPO administers.” WIPO creates IP standards across its member states through negotiated treaties, forums, and other mechanisms. The agency also administers international patent and trademark systems that provide efficient and cost-effective ways for IP holders to register and protect their IP internationally.

WPPT = WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty

The WPPT was signed in 1996, and it addresses two beneficiaries: performers (such as actors, singers, musicians, etc.) and producers. Specifically, members of the treaty are obligated to grant performers and producers economic rights in phonograms—aural works fixed in a medium such as a CD or mp3—that they perform in or create. These economic rights include the right of reproduction, distribution, rental, and making available. Additionally, members of the treaty must grant performers the rights of broadcasting, communication to the public, and fixation, for live performances

WTO = World Trade Organization

The World Trade Organization is a global organization with 164 member states, representing 98 percent of world trade, based in Geneva, Switzerland. The organization facilitates a system of trade rules through forums for its member states to negotiate trade agreements and resolve trade problems. The WTO and WIPO closely cooperate on matters of intellectual property and intellectual property agreements, such as Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS, see more above).

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