Can you please explain why the timeline for receiving a Certificate of Registration has gone from three months to eight months?
In 2010, there were 125 copyright Examiners in the Registration Program (including the Literary Division, the Performing Arts Division, and the Visual Arts Division). In 2015, the number of copyright Examiners had decreased to 73 — a forty percent reduction. In Fiscal Year 2015, Congress provided the Office with $750,000 in spending authority (funds received from Office fees) to hire new Examiners. In FY 2015, we hired twelve new Examiners and are currently in the process of training them. However, in order to train them to become professional, independent copyright Examiners, veteran Examiners have been required to assist in that training and provide quality assurance review to all the work that they do, in addition to the legal and Compendium practice training that is being provided by the Office of Registration Policy and Practice. Thus, while the newly hired Examiners will be beneficial in the long-run, in the short-term, resources are stretched even more thinly. In other words, things will have to get worse before they can get better. This is the unavoidable consequence of reductions in staff.
In Fiscal Year 2016, Congress provided additional spending authority to the Office to hire an additional twenty Examiners. In addition, we will also be backfilling a number of recent retirements. We received a large volume of applications and the hiring panel is in the process of reviewing them. We hope to have more than twenty new Examiners coming into the Office in late spring. By August, the first class of twelve Examiners will likely working independently, but for the next year, we will again be stretching existing resources until the second class of twenty or more Examiners is fully trained.
We have attempted to stem the tide by authorizing overtime work for existing Examiners, but this is obviously not a solution to understaffing. We expect to see some improvements in productivity later this year, and see significantly greater improvements toward the middle of 2017, when the cumulative number of Examiners should be above 100. However, even at that time, the Registration Program will not be at our 2010 level of 125 copyright Examiners. We will endeavor to increase efficiencies within the Registration Program, but this cannot be done at the expense of quality. Providing high-quality, efficient examination is the core goal of the Registration Program.
In addition to staffing, we have had our share of technological problems. The first week that the new Examiners were brought into the Office last year, the Library of Congress performed a routine power shutdown that resulted in the U.S. Copyright Office’s electronic registration system being completely offline for nine days. This coincided perfectly with our new Examiners’ first week in the Office in which we had intended to teach them the basics of the electronic registration system. The Registration Program also suffered through periods of recurring system slowness, which at its worst point, was identified as being the result of server allocation decisions by the Library. While that issue was resolved, copyright Examiners continue to deal with system difficulties and slowness internally. We are hopeful that support for Office modernization will enable the Office to create a more stable, user-friendly (both externally and internally), and efficient electronic registration system.
In addition to the 2014 revision of the Compendium, last year, all copyright Examiners attended the equivalent of a complete course on all aspects of copyright law, for a total of well over thirty hours of class time. There have also been training sessions on particular complex areas of the law. Keep in mind that Copyright Office Examiners see more copyright claims in one day than the federal courts see in an entire year. The need to educate Examiners on complex copyright principles is, for the first time, being made a priority. While there are short-term consequences, the long-term benefits will be significant.
Rob Kasunic, Director of Registration Policy and Practices at the U.S. Copyright Office