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The U.S. Copyright Office: An Introduction

The U.S. Copyright Office,, performs many functions relating to U.S. Copyright law. One of its main functions has always been to register works for copyright protection. Because of the registration function, the Copyright Office also answers hundreds of thousands of inquiries by phone and email, performs search and retrieval functions for customers involved in research and litigation, and serves a substantial number of in-person visitors.


The Copyright Office has an online registration service to allow a relatively quick process. Many choose to register their works because they wish to have the facts of their copyright on the public record and have a certificate of registration. Registered works may be eligible for statutory damages and attorney's fees in successful litigation. Finally, if registration occurs within 5 years of publication, it is considered prima facie evidence in a court of law. Those who plan to earn their livelihood from intellectual property may wish to investigate the advantages of copyright registration on the Copyright Office site.  Those who wish to search Copyright Office records for registered works will find Information Circular 22, How to Investigate the Copyright Status of a Work to be a helpful introduction to searching. A search tutorial is also available. The Office also provides search services for a fee. A form that will help estimate the costs of their services is also online: 


The full text of Title 17 of the U.S. Code is featured on the Copyright Office site. All the enactments are listed so that it is clear which sections of the law have been amended over time. There are also many related links on this page, including regulations, annual reports, fact sheets and circulars.


The Office is responsible for a great many policy functions, including domestic and international policy analysis; legislative support for Congress; litigation activities; support for the courts and executive branch agencies (including significant efforts on trade and antipiracy initiatives); participation on U.S. delegations in meetings with foreign governments or private parties; attendance and participation at intergovernmental meetings and other international events; hosting copyright training for copyright officials from developing countries; and providing public information and education. Reports of these activities and a great deal of educational information will be found through the main page of the site. Upcoming revisions of Title 17 should be found as legislators debate the issues and draft policy documents.


For a more thorough introduction go to and browse the various sections of the site.


Blog post by Lorre Smith

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