Online Copyright Registration Services: Writer Beware

From Writer Beware:

In 2014, I wrote a post about Copyright Registration Online, one of many faux and exploitative copyright registration “services” that cater to writers’ anxiety about theft and plagiarism, particularly of unpublished work, by promising to register US copyright or to provide some sort of copyright verification service.

Naturally, there are fees for these services. At the time I wrote the post, Copyright Registration Online was charging $135–which was a ripoff, on two fronts. You can register copyright yourself online at the US Copyright Office for only $45. Just as important: there’s absolutely no need to register copyright for unpublished work.

Some registration services are basically pass-throughs: they do submit registration applications to the US Copyright Office, just at a seriously inflated cost. Others provide their own “registration” documentation or certificates, often based on some sort of timestamp. These are completely worthless, not just because they could easily be faked and are therefore unlikely to stand up in court, but because there is no legal substitute for registration with the US Copyright Office (in the United States, you must previously have registered your copyright in order to file an infringement action). Just like so-called poor man’s copyright, any “registration” received from a source other than the Copyright Office has zero legal validity.

So why am I dredging up old blog posts? Because Copyright Registration Online is still around, and it has seriously upped the disinformation factor.

Now also calling itself Copyright Registry or Copyright Registry Online, it’s got a spiffy new web domain, website, and eagle-and-flag logo. Services are basically the same; prices are a little higher, but not much: “registration” for a single author with a single work will set you back $144.

. . . .

Complaints at the BBB–which currently gives the company an F rating–further illustrate this point.

. . . .

By law, you own copyright from the moment you write down the words. Registration is an extra step that gives you the right to pursue an infringement claim in US court (other countries have no such requirement for filing a claim). But theft and plagiarism are vanishingly unlikely at the query stage. Reputable agents and editors won’t risk their reputations by stealing; disreputable ones aren’t interested in your work, only in your money. Infringement only becomes a danger when your work is exposed to a wide audience: in other words, published.

Link to the rest at Writer Beware

PG notes that for registrations with the US copyright office are made through the copyright.gov website. You may wish to confirm the .gov URL to make certain you haven’t clicked on one of the services about which Writer Beware warns in the OP.

Like more than a few government websites, copyright.gov is not a triumph in website design. However, if you make your way to the Registration Portal (note the .gov extension), you’re in the general area where you want to be.

Once you’re at the Registration Portal (the government’s use of “Portal” is, PG assumes, an attempt to be regarded as internet-savvy), you’ll likely have to work your way through some preliminary warnings to hunt for a blue button that promises to give you access to the “eCO” (Electronic Copyright Office, but “eCO” sounds more technical) registration system.

Once you get to eCO, you’re into full government world. You see a very simple screen with one button marked “Log in to eCo”.

Some may wonder how they are supposed to log in if they haven’t registered themselves as a user. Go ahead and click the log-in button anyway. To the best of PG’s knowledge, this is not a federal criminal offence.

When you click that button, you’ll likely see a popup warning that using browsers other than Firefox may result in a less than optimal experience. PG has found no problems (at least with the copyright website) using Chrome, but your experience may vary.

After you’ve clicked, you’ll see another page with an ID/Password form for your Copyright Office eCO credentials, which you won’t have if you haven’t signed up to obtain those credentials.

Some (many?) would-be registrants will give up at this point, but go ahead and click.

When you get to the next page, your greatest fears will be realized. Your eyes will immediately go to User/Password fill-in boxes.

Don’t panic. Instead look carefully below those prominent boxes and you will see a much-less prominent blue on dark gray link that says “If you’re a new user, click here”. If a private organization used such a design, someone would sue on behalf of those with less-than optimal vision.

If you wait too long to find the obscure link, you’ll be informed that your session has timed out and you’ll have to click on the obscure link again.

If you’ve made it this far, you should see a signup page last modified in 1981 which includes several boxes to fill with your personal information, including “Salutation”. You’ll want to click on the obscure blue-on-gray link for User ID Help to make certain you read the instructions concerning what is or is not a government-approved User ID.

You’ll also be informed that you must change your password every sixty days or “when instructed”. If it takes you longer than sixty days to write your next book, don’t worry, you’ll be instructed to change your password.

Once you stumble through the portal, you’ll be confronted with yet more things to read and fill out, but if you’ve had the patience to work your way through the eCO gate, you’ll get through the registration process as well. Just don’t schedule anything else for an hour or two. And don’t trust some organization that shows up in a Google internet search to do this for you.

99% of the time, you don’t need a lawyer to register your copyright.

Full Disclosure: PG wades through this government website mess for Mrs. PG’s books but for no one else. He’s sorry if you’re disappointed, but won’t change his mind except for people he’s known for thirty years or more and is still talking to.

10 thoughts on “Online Copyright Registration Services: Writer Beware”

  1. <sarcasm> For shame, PG! You gave the designers of the Copyright Office too much credit — that login page is from 1979, not 1981! (I’m only partly joking. IIRC, it looks a lot like the dedicated-terminal login page for the National Archives’ index system that I used in the early 1990s and was complained about as being more than a dozen years old.) </sarcasm>

    But there’s a one-word explanation for all problems with the Library of Congress computer systems (and the Copyright Office is just part of the Library of Congress, which raises some really interesting jurisprudential questions about how to sue for anything except wage-and-hours disputes):

    Dynix

    Oh, dear, I think I’ve just given any experienced librarian readers strokes… (Dynix was a library-cataloging system that had been kludged together by a bunch of *nix programmers on lunch breaks in the 1980s… and then metastatized.)

    • Not surprised that such codes endure to this day. I knew a place that tried to do serious tech research on excel sprradsheets running on Mac FX’es. Well after RISC was old hat.
      In the gaming industry they call that kind of inertia “tech debt”.

      Many different causes but this ones seems to fit:

      “Knowledge gaps – Sometimes a business might make decisions without the requisite knowledge and end up making mistakes as a result, increasing technical debt. Corrections requiring various resources later might be needed. Or, perhaps, a developer lacks the knowledge to write graceful code causing unforeseen complications later. Or further still, outsourced work is found to be substandard and requires reworking further down the line. All of these are characterized as inadvertent types of debt.”

      https://airfocus.com/glossary/what-is-technical-debt/#:~:text=Also%20known%20as%20%22design%20debt%22%2C%20%22code%20debt%22%2C%20or,the%20product%2C%20in%20terms%20of%20resources%20and%20time.

      Lots of coders don’t bother to look outside the glass house and blindly code to a list of requirements without regard to what the real world use will be.

      Reminds me of a Computerworld issue from the mid 80’s that was devoted entirely to how Unix running on mainframes and minicomputers was going to rule tbe world by 2000 and make everyone forget the PC fad and the bad joke that was PC-DOS. No idea of who was using PCs or why. The same breed as the IBM execs that inisisted MS take scaleable font tech out of OS/2 1.1 as “unnecessary because line printers didn’t do it”.

      The rag’s target audience was the glasshouse priests and their biggest advertisers were IBM, DEC, and DataGeneral.
      ‘Nuff said, right?

  2. Hmm. At $100 for an hour (or two) of work – it strikes me that a legitimate service of this kind would be a good idea for you. Of course, how many lawyers or their spouses write books? (Although several other professions qualify too, many people can make far more than $100 in an hour by applying their professional skills rather than futzing with this website.)

    • It takes substantially less than an hour to register a copyright, W. I’ll try to remember to time myself the next time I do it.

      The wonky copyright office web system eats most of the time.

      Write your congressperson demanding that the government hire Amazon to redesign of the online copyright registration and you’ll be able to post a new book for sale on Amazon and get a copyright at the same time.

      • The way Congress “works” they’ll spend $10B studying the proposal for 10 years and another $50B on a 20 year project that’ll go live after Amazon has been superceded by GarageCorp selling replicators. 😀

      • I presume that Mrs PG gets a large discount on your normal rates?

        I cannot approve of your recommendation of Amazon. They are very good at a lot of what they do but when it comes to software design they have some problems. The one your readers have probably noticed most is the total screw up that is their “search” functionality. I recently wanted a 2m (2000mm) length of aluminium tube. Easily obtained from specialist suppliers but they all wanted far too much P&P for one tube. I’m sure Amazon UK have it but I couldn’t get them to limit their results to 2m lengths and I had 96 pages to look through to find what I wanted (which was not all those 300mm lengths filling the first few pages): so, no sale.

        Then there is anything to do with the Kindle for readers. The latest Paperwhite/Oasis software update is pretty bad and can only be explained by coders who think they know best and don’t need to talk to readers. The manage your content changes on the PC website – which clearly have no reader input and seem to be entirely based on making things look prettier – have just been rolled out here, so we now have to suffer the same problems as US users. Everything is worse, particularly the “add to collection” functionality which is now effectively unusable.

        When I have a problem with an order, Amazon’s customer service is the best I have ever experienced, but trying to contact anyone who can understand/help with such software problems is impossible.

  3. The last time I bothered doing this, it took over a year for them to send me back the certificate saying the registration was successful…

    …and it was for a completely separate book. As in, NOT MY book.

    I called the Copyright Office and they said ‘we’re so sorry, but we’re so behind, and we have so few people doing this, and it’s just going to get worse. Also, no, we can’t send you a new certificate of deposit, and the woman whose certificate you have… probably has yours! So why don’t you get her to mail you yours. You can trade!”

    We’ll just say I don’t feel this experience filled me with confidence.

  4. I find the copyright site to be easy as long as I remember to use the Mozilla web browser. I have all 18 of my books copyrighted and have received certificates within 2-3 months. My works are listed as “unpublished” as I register them before they go to my first readers and editors and therefore the ebook copy is full of typos. I don’t care. I just want the certificate in case I need to file a takedown notice. I’ve heard that Amazon requires that. Regardless, for 20 minutes of my time and $45, I’m covered.

    Recently, I looked at the website to see if there was a way to change the listing to published, but I didn’t see a way to do that on the circa 1981 website.

  5. I do it myself (in U.S.) online on the .gov site. On my last one, I received the Certificate of Registration in 6 weeks.

    What’s WAY more fun is doing your own Trademark registrations. (I have)

  6. I use the .gov site all the time. The only thing I have to remember is to occasionally log in, since if you wait too long between copyright registrations is that your password goes “kaput”, which means the usual headaches.

    As for clunkiness, I’ve seen much worse. Back in the late 90’s, I started working at my local state library branch. Within the first few weeks I was told about a particular computer that can never be updated. It was the only in the building that could still access FoxPro, of which we had a couple of databases that used it. At the time, our state computers were working on 6.0, so I’m not quite sure what the OS was prior. Suffice to say, I believe that computer was still in use when I got laid off in 2003.

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