Transforming Document Recordation at the United States Copyright Office

139 Pages Posted: 29 May 2015 Last revised: 29 Mar 2017

See all articles by Robert Brauneis

Robert Brauneis

George Washington University - Law School

Date Written: December 31, 2014


For over 140 years, federal law has provided for recording of documents pertaining to copyright in one central location, at the Copyright Office and, before the Copyright Office was created as a separate unit, at the Library of Congress. Over that time, the copyright recordation system has supported a market for interests in and use of works of authorship by lowering the cost of obtaining information about ownership and by reducing unavoidable risks that threaten ownership. Yet the recordation system has not kept up with developments in technology and in business practices. This report, prepared while the author was serving as the Abraham L. Kaminstein Scholar in Residence, assesses the current recordation system and recommends that the Copyright Office implement an electronic recordation system with a variety of features that will enable it to better support copyright transactions.

The report first presents information about the history and current state of copyright recordation, including the statutory framework; the recordation process; the document repository and catalog; fees, staffing, and processing times; and recordation statistics and case law under the Copyright Act of 1976. The report then recommends implementing an electronic recordation system. Based on comments to a Notice of Inquiry, three stakeholder roundtables, and additional research, the report makes nine specific recommendations about features and functions of such a system. It covers issues such as electronic signatures, certifications, remitter provision of and responsibility for cataloging information, the scope of Copyright Office screening of documents, the form of a digital document repository, redaction of documents, and additional legal incentives to record. The report also makes several additional recommendations about matters such as information gathering and handling in an electronic recordation system, interoperability and third-party enhanced services, Section 508 litigation notifications, and updating contact and “rights and permissions” information.

Keywords: copyright, recordation, recording, transactions, Copyright Office

JEL Classification: K30, K39

Suggested Citation

Brauneis, Robert, Transforming Document Recordation at the United States Copyright Office (December 31, 2014). GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 2017-15, GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2017-15, Available at SSRN: or

Robert Brauneis (Contact Author)

George Washington University - Law School ( email )

2000 H Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20052
United States

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