Copyright Hygiene for Digital Content Creators


Part 2: Group Registration

In my first post, after touching on the need/wisdom of copyright registration for bloggers (and other creators whose distribution is primarily through social media sites), I went on to discuss the DMCA and how it is a useful first-line-of-defense bit of IP protection for content first appearing on such sites. In this post, I want to get back to the registration topic itself, this time in greater detail.

From a copyright layperson’s view, a blog may be at first seem quite like a personal newsletter or maybe a newspaper (if there are several regular contributors, leading to a greater volume of total weekly content); and these traditional media outlets have been managing their copyright needs – more or less efficiently – for decades. But, according to the US Copyright Office (USCO), a blog may not be registered either as a newsletter or as a newspaper.

“Don’t Panic”

In fact, the following words are featured prominently on the first page of the USCO’s explanatory introduction “Copyright Registration of Websites and Website Content” (Circular 66): “The Copyright Act does not explicitly recognize websites as a type of copyrightable subject matter.” That might be enough to stop you in your tracks. But it shouldn’t actually put you off your good intent.

Under US copyright law, typical web sites are understood as a collection of pages, basically a stack of written materials, although these are likely supplemented by still images, as well as moving images and perhaps audio recordings. (Let’s put aside the question of live streaming, for now.) Each of your posts – “works of original expression in a fixed form” in the language of the Copyright Act – is individually registerable for copyright. If that sounds tedious and potentially expensive, that’s because it is.  The good news is that you don’t have to go that route.

Meet GRTX (No, It’s Not a Robot)

In August 2020, likely in an effort to ease and encourage the registration of more blog content, the Copyright Office launched a new procedure (known as GRTX, an extension of its longtime procedure for traditional serial works(Circs. 62, 62a, 62b, and 62c) for registering batches of up to 50 short text works (those ranging in length from 50 to 17,500 words) that is faster and less expensive – and, for addressing multiple items all at once, less tedious – than the old method. (I don’t have any hard data, but my impression is that, as a general matter, few blog sites register their works at all.) This procedural change should be understood as a refinement and an extension of the existing group registration procedures, which are most commonly used for serials, photographs and the like, and are covered in Circular 34.

GRTX is discussed in Circular 67 and more broadly on this web page. The GRTX procedure, too, has its restrictions and limitations. Qualified works must be “first published as part of a website or online platform, including online newspapers, social media websites, and social networking platforms.” The procedure is specifically not to be used for registrations of e-mails (even though these are usually text-based), podcasts and audiobooks (both of which are comprised of sound recordings), or computer programs. The GRTX fee is $55 which, for up to 50 blog posts at one go, certainly represents a discount from the usual $45 per work that the standard online application for registration (eCO) costs. This is a great deal and addresses the problem nicely, in my view.

The final step in registration via this method entails complying with the (standard) deposit requirement for works in electronic formats. Although it might seem counterintuitive, and a relic of ye olden times, the fact is that overlooking this step can void your whole application. The deposit requirement goes back to the 19th century, and remains a vital part of expanding the Library of Congress’s collections, for print works and also for cataloging purposes. At the risk of redundancy, I’ll say it again: Don’t forget to deposit your work after registering it. I recommend watching the video tutorial, “Uploading the deposit and list of titles and filenames” among the GRTX tutorials available at copyright.gov.

We all do well to bear in mind that copyright law and practice are not static; it was that Fourth Estate vs Wall-Street.com decision of the US Supreme Court that reminded us most recently about the importance of completing the registration process on a timely basis, and other relevant court decisions come down the pike all the time. The USCO updates its procedures from time to time, when changes in the outside world seem to require it (as they do with ever-greater frequency, these days) —after proper public notice and comment periods, of course. Additionally, Congress is always around to shake things up. I’ll talk about that aspect in my next installment.

In posts to follow, I plan to cover the following topics: How podcasts are somewhat different than blogs for purposes of copyright protection; how the CASE Act (creating a form of small-claims litigation) will affect all this, starting next year; some alternative or supplemental approaches to copyright for blogs, including the use of Creative Commons licenses; and I’ll finish up with a look at some copyright aspects of operating a YouTube channel.

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Author: Dave Davis

Dave Davis joined CCC in 1994 and currently serves as research analyst. He previously held directorships in both public libraries and corporate libraries and earned joint master’s degrees in Library and Information Sciences and Medieval European History from Catholic University of America. Dave is fascinated by copyright issues, content licensing and data. Also, rock and roll music.
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