Last week, the U.S. Copyright Office launched a new group registration option for unpublished works. Many creators previously used the “unpublished collection” option to register these unpublished works. If you are one of those creators, pay close attention because this new group registration option has replaced the unpublished collection registration option.
The New Group Registration
On March 15, the U.S. Copyright Office introduced the new group registration, allowing a copyright owner to register up to 10 unpublished works in one application, for a single fee. In the case of sound recordings, the Office will allow up to 10 sound recordings to be registered along with the 10 underlying works—i.e., musical compositions, literary works, or dramatic works—for a total of twenty works in one application. So for example, if you’re a singer/songwriter who wants to register 10 of your songs, you can register all 10 of the sound recordings along with the 10 underlying musical compositions (lyrics, arrangement, etc.). If you’re a literary author, you can register your 10 novels along with the 10 audio book recordings of those novels. This assumes, of course, that all of these works are unpublished at the time the group registration application is submitted.
Importantly, this option will only be available via an online application, and creators will be required to upload their works to the electronic registration system. So, if you’re a creator who prefers to use the paper applications or don’t feel comfortable uploading your works, you will have to change your practices in order to use this new group registration option.
To be eligible to use this new group registration option, there are a few requirements that must be met:
1. All the works registered using this group registration must have the same creator (or creators).
2. The creator(s) must also be named as the copyright “claimant.”
3. All the works registered must be the same type of work (literary works, visual works, sound recordings, performing arts works, or audiovisual works). Note that there’s a special exception (discussed above) that allows sound recordings to be registered along with literary works, musical works, or dramatic works, so long as those works are embodied in the accompanying sound recordings.
4. All of the works must be “unpublished.” Whether a work is considered “published” or “unpublished” can be a tricky. Click here for more information about how to determine whether your works are “unpublished” and qualify for this group registration.
Benefits of Registering Unpublished Works
It’s a good idea to register your works with the Copyright Office as early as possible—i.e., before they are ever published or made available to others—in order to maximize the benefits of registration. For example, if you wait too long and your unpublished work is infringed before you’ve registered it, that work becomes ineligible for statutory damages or attorney’s fees in court. Regularly registering your unpublished works can help prevent you from finding yourself in this predicament, and this group registration option helps make doing so more affordable. And by timely registering your works via the group registration, each work is eligible for a separate statutory damage award.
Right now, the fee for submitting a single application for a group registration for unpublished works is set at $55. However, this fee may soon increase to $85 once the Office’s proposed fee increases go into effect. You can read more about the proposed fee increase here.
The now-replaced “unpublished collection” option, which allowed creators to register an unlimited number of unpublished works, was available for many decades, so some of you may be wonder why the Copyright Office decided to replace it. The Office explained that although the unpublished collection option was well intentioned, the ability for creators to register an unlimited number of works—which sometimes meant dozens, hundreds, or thousands of works in one application—made examining and processing those applications extremely difficult and costly for the Office.
The Office was also concerned about how the unpublished collection option affected the public record. The unpublished collection option only required that the creator give the collection a title, rather than each individual work. The Copyright Office explained that this led to confusion, both in the courts and for users of the Copyright Office database
“Interested parties typically search for works by title, and it may be difficult to find a particular work if the applicant fails to provide this information in the application. Indeed, the lack of titles for individual works in an unpublished collection has created confusion as to whether a registration for an unpublished collection covers the individual works or the collection as a whole … The [new group registration for unpublished works] addresses these issues by providing an efficient and straightforward way to identify the individual works, while providing clear guidance that the registration covers the individual works.”
Special Note for Photographers
Photographers, don’t panic! This new group registration option does not replace the group registration for unpublished photographs, which was established last year. Using that option, you can still register up to 750 unpublished photographs using one application, and for a single fee.
Other Group Registration Options for Published Works
The Office also provides group registration options for certain types of published works, including:
– Contributions to periodicals
– Daily newspapers
– Daily newsletters
The Copyright Alliance continues to advocate for ways to make copyright registration more accessible and affordable for creators, and we appreciate the Copyright Office’s efforts in implementing group registrations like this one that help achieve that goal. For more information about copyright registration, check out our FAQs on registration.