United States Copyright Office

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United States Copyright Office
Agency overview
Formed1870; 151 years ago (1870)
JurisdictionFederal government of the United States
HeadquartersWashington, D.C.
Agency executive
Parent agencyLibrary of Congress
The James Madison Memorial Building, which houses the office

The United States Copyright Office (sometimes abbreviated USCO), a part of the Library of Congress, is the official U.S. government body that maintains records of copyright registration in the United States including a Copyright Catalog. It is used by copyright title searchers who are attempting to clear a chain of title for copyrighted works.

The head of the Copyright Office is the Register of Copyrights. As of October 2020, the position is held by Shira Perlmutter, who took office October 26, 2020.[1]

The Copyright Office is housed on the fourth floor of the James Madison Memorial Building of the Library of Congress, at 101 Independence Avenue, SE, in Washington, DC.[2]


The United States Constitution gives Congress the power to enact laws establishing a system of copyright in the United States. The first federal copyright law, called the Copyright Act of 1790, was enacted in May 1790 (with the first work being registered within two weeks). Originally, claims were recorded by Clerks of U.S. district courts. In 1870, copyright functions were centralized in the Library of Congress under the direction of the then Librarian of Congress Ainsworth Rand Spofford. The Copyright Office became a separate department of the Library of Congress in 1897, and Thorvald Solberg was appointed the first Register of Copyrights.[3]

In the 1930s, the Copyright Office moved to new quarters in what is now the John Adams Building and in the 1970s it moved again, to its present quarters in the James Madison Memorial Building.


The mission of the Copyright Office is to promote creativity by administering and sustaining an effective national copyright system. While the purpose of the copyright system has always been to promote creativity in society, the functions of the Copyright Office have grown to include the following:

Administering the copyright law[edit]

The Office examines all applications and deposits presented for registration of original and renewal copyright claims to determine their acceptability for registration under the provisions of the copyright law. The Office also records documents related to copyright ownership. However, the Copyright Act of 1976 made registration largely optional for copyright ownership. Under the 1976 Act, federal copyright only requires fixation of an original work of authorship in a tangible medium of expression. Renewal is unnecessary, and a copyright owner can register at any time. The 1976 Act does make registration a prerequisite for an infringement action.

The Copyright Office records the bibliographic descriptions and the copyright facts of all works registered. The archives maintained by the Copyright Office are an important record of America's cultural and historical heritage. Containing nearly 45 million individual cards, the Copyright Card Catalog housed in the James Madison Memorial Building comprises an index to copyright registrations in the United States from 1870 through 1977. Records after 1977 are maintained through an online database of more than 16 million entries.

As a service unit of the Library of Congress, the Copyright Office is part of the legislative branch of government. The Office provides copyright policy advice to Congress. At the request of Congress, the Copyright Office advises and assists the Congress in the development of national and international copyright policy; drafts legislation; and prepares technical studies on copyright-related matters.

The Compendium of U.S. Copyright Office Practices manual documents the Copyright Office's practices in its administration of copyright law.

A new fee schedule for certain Office services is effective as of May 1, 2014.[4] The Copyright office's fees were last updated in 2009. Fees increased for certain registration and recordation and associated services, as well as certain search and review services for FOIA requests Freedom of Information Act (United States). In May 2014, the Office also reduced some renewal application and addendum fees in an effort to "encourage the filing of more renewal claims" and thereby help improve public records about copyright ownership.[5]

Providing information services to the public[edit]

This 2019 video from the Copyright Office explains the value of a public domain and why copyright matters. Public outreach is part of the mandate of the agency.

The Copyright Office provides public information and reference services concerning copyrights and recorded documents. The public can keep up on developments in the Copyright Office by subscribing to U.S. Copyright Office NewsNet, a free electronic mailing list that issues periodic email messages to alert subscribers to hearings, deadlines for comments, new and proposed regulations, new publications, and other copyright-related subjects of interest.

Library of Congress[edit]

In 1870, Congress passed a law that centralized the copyright system in the Library of Congress. This law required all owners of copyrights of publicly distributed works to deposit in the Library two copies of every such work registered in the United States, whether it is a book, pamphlet, map, print, or piece of music. Supplying the information needs of the Congress, the Library of Congress has become the world's largest library and the de facto national library of the United States. This repository of more than 162 million books, photographs, maps, films, documents, sound recordings, computer programs, and other items has grown largely through the operations of the copyright system, which brings deposits of every copyrighted work into the Library.[6]


The Copyright Office consults with interested copyright owners, industry and library representatives, bar associations, and other interested parties on issues related to the copyright law.

The Copyright Office promotes improved copyright protection for U.S. creative works abroad through its International Copyright Institute. Created within the Copyright Office by Congress in 1988, the International Copyright Institute provides training for high-level officials from developing and newly industrialized countries and encourages development of effective intellectual property laws and enforcement overseas.

The website has information about new copyright relevant legislation and a list of designated agents under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and the Online Copyright Infringement Liability Limitation Act (OCILLA) and information about Copyright Arbitration Royalty Panel (CARP) system of ad hoc copyright royalty arbitrators (now being phased out and replaced by the Copyright Royalty Board).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "U.S. Copyright Office Welcomes New Register". Copyright Office NewsNet (857). U.S. Copyright Office. October 26, 2020. Retrieved October 26, 2020.
  2. ^ "Contact Information." United States Copyright Office. Retrieved on October 20, 2012. "James Madison Memorial Building. The U.S. Copyright Office is located on the 4th floor."
  3. ^ U.S. Copyright Office Circular 1a, United States Copyright Office: A Brief Introduction and History
  4. ^ "Fees for Copyright Registration, Recordation, and Other Services". U.S. Copyright Office. Retrieved 18 May 2014.
  5. ^ Jacobson, Julia; McDermott Will & Emery (April 29, 2014). "Copyright Office Fees". The National Law Review. Retrieved May 18, 2014.
  6. ^ "General Information". Library of Congress. Retrieved 2 December 2016.

External links[edit]