By: Erica M. Hines

Effective January 1, 2011, Maria Pallante has been appointed as the Acting Register of Copyrights. The last Register, Marybeth Peters, served in the position for 16 years before retiring in December 2010. Pallante is a copyright attorney who has held two senior positions in the Copyright Office, including, most recently, senior adviser to the Librarian of Congress. Pallante will replace Peters as Acting Register until the next Register of Copyright is selected.

The Register of Copyrights is appointed by the Librarian of Congress and is responsible for overseeing various important functions of the Copyright Office, including developing copyright policy, advising Congress on foreign and domestic copyright issues, and conducting studies and programs regarding copyright-related matters.

Beginning in 2000, the Copyright Office commenced a multi-year Reengineering Program initiative, which involved redesigning Office processes, systems, organizational structure, and facilities to provide better and more efficient service to copyright owners and users. The initiative included the development of the electronic Copyright Office (eCO) system, which provides for electronic processing of copyright services, including online registration capability and an online searchable index of more than 20 million searchable copyright records. These and other recent copyright developments have brought copyright into the realm of the general public.

While copyright protection is automatic (it vests as soon as someone creates a work and fixes it in tangible form), today individuals can obtain copyright registrations inexpensively and reap the benefits associated therewith. For example, registering a copyright provides a means for people to identify the owners of works that they would like permission to use. Further, it is necessary to register a copyright before you can sue for copyright infringement under federal law, and some remedies are only available for works that have been registered promptly. For example if a work is registered within three months of publication or before someone infringes it, the owner can ask a court to award court costs and attorneys fees, which could be the determining factor in whether an individual can afford to sue for copyright infringement.

In 2009, the Copyright Office registered 382,086 claims and recorded 11,959 documents covering more than 350,000 titles of works.