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Graphic Artists Guild

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Guild Responds to Copyright Office Inquiry on Modernization

On January 15, 2019, the Graphic Artists Guild responded to the Copyright Office’s Notice of Inquiry (NOI) on Registration Modernization. The inquiry follows a series of studies conducted by the Office to address its IT needs. The studies highlighted the need for the Office to improve the copyright registration system by decreasing processing times and increasing capacity. In addition to creating IT infrastructure to support a new registration system, the Office is also considering legal and policy changes. The NOI asked stakeholders to respond to questions on a broad range of issues related to the copyright registration system.

In our comments, the Guild deferred largely to comments submitted by the Coalition of Visual Artists, of which the Guild is a member. Those comments described the problems which visual artists have with the registration system, and asked the Office to implement bold and innovative plans to modernize the registration system. The Coalition’s response outlined a proposed provisional registration system, in which an artist could, for a lower fee, register a work “provisionally” without having the work examined by the Office; should the artist require the work to be fully registered, they could pay a conversion fee to have the registration examined and a registration certificate issued. The Coalition’s response also covered in detail how APIs should be used to integrate copyright registration into an artist’s workflow (while working in programs such as Photoshop), easing the registration process.

We focused our response to the NOI on specific concerns of illustrators and designers, and we elaborated on certain points made in the Coalition response. The key points in our comments are:

  • In light of the confusion copyright holders and the courts experience in trying to decide the publication status of a work (particularly work appearing online), we support either the removal of the statutory requirement to list publication status, or making that information optional on the registration application and permitting the courts to consider whether a work is published if and when a copyright holder brings an infringement lawsuit. Barring those changes, we request that the Copyright Office issue an opinion on what constitutes publication on an online environment.
  • We support the Coalition’s proposal for a provisional registration system. However, we stress that the process to convert a provisional registration to a full registration will need to be expedited for those who have pending litigation (such as an artist who discovers their work has been infringed). We also feel strongly that the provisional registrant should be permitted to convert the registration at any time during the life of the copyright.
  • We issued a request that the group registration options currently available for photographers be extended to include all works of visual art.
  • We feel that copyright holders should be able to provide a general description of their work, rather than choose from a drop-down menu of choices. A general description could be used by the Copyright Office to route the application to the correct administrative class (such as literary work, work of visual art, etc.), rather than requiring the copyright holder to assign it – a task that poses a difficulty for those creating works that could fall into multiple administrative classes, such as illustrated children’s books and graphic novels.
  • We asked the Copyright Office to continue to provide leadership and advise Congress on the creation of a small copyright claims tribunal.