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New Copyright Office Rule Allows Copyright Registration of Online Works with a Single Application

On Monday, the U.S. Copyright Office finalized a new rule to allow writers to register a group of short-form online works with one application. The rule, which was championed by the Authors Guild, NWU, SFWA, Horror Writers Association, and other author organizations, makes it cheaper and easier for authors to register these kinds of works by allowing them to do so under a single online application and a $65 filling fee.

Starting in August, authors will be able to register the text of up to 50 “short online works” through a new “GRTX” application form housed in the Copyright Office’s Electronic Copyright Office portal. The works that may be included must be at least 50 words in length and less than 17,500 words; and must all be written or co-authored by the same author. In addition, the rule requires each work in the group to have been first published online within a given three-month period. Works published online and in print simultaneously are eligible, but works first published in print and later posted online are not. Notably, GRTX registration is for text-based works only and excludes visual images. Works made for hire are also excluded as the employer rather than the writer is deemed the author for copyright purposes.

A Significant Benefit for Freelance Journalists and Writers

The new rule confers a significant benefit on all writers working in the digital space. Prior to it, “group registration” was only available for pieces that were unpublished (limited to 10) or published as contributions to “periodicals”—namely newspapers, magazines, newsletters, or other “regularly scheduled” mediums. Blogs, website contributions, social media posts, and other content published online, such as poems and short stories, were excluded from “group registration,” and had to be registered separately at great cost and effort.

The exclusion of short-form online works that did not fall in one of the narrow categories was a limitation of the copyright system that disadvantaged freelance authors and journalists who primarily write and publish online, exclusively or as a first publication. Copyright registration is a condition of certain benefits, like statutory damages and attorneys’ fees which depend on filing an application within three months of first publication or prior to the infringement. But registering every work individually could cost freelance authors and journalists, depending on their output, hundreds or thousands of dollars and countless hours of filling out one application after another. The result is that writers simply did not register most online works and were deprived of the benefits of statutory damages and attorneys’ fees as a result.

Thanks to the new rule, more authors will be able to benefit from these important legal protections without spending exorbitant amounts of their time or money on doing so. We are grateful to the Copyright Office for their hard work in creating this new benefit, and applaud all of our sister organizations for the advocacy that made it possible.

The Authors Guild is planning to offer a service to our members to file group registrations for their short online works in the near future. More to come on that soon.