Link to Declaratory Judgment Action
READ the Answer!
The Honorable Marybeth Peters
United States Register of Copyrights
U.S. Copyright Office
101 Independence Ave. S.E.
Washington, D.C. 20559-6000
September 17, 2007

Dear Ms. Peters:

We are writing to you today to ask you to provide bulk access to the copyright catalog of monographs, documents, and serials on the Internet. Today this information is available through two means:

  1. The Copyright Office maintains a web-based application that allows the public to search for individual records. However, no bulk access is available: one cannot download the entire database.
  2. The Cataloging and Distribution Service of the Library of Congress sells a current subscription for $31,500 and makes the retrospective database available for $55,125 for a total cost of entry of $86,625. The Library of Congress Terms of Use assert copyright on this data.

The copyright catalog of monographs, documents, and serials is not a product, it is fuel that makes the copyright system work. Anybody should be able to download the entire database to their desktop, write a better search application, or use this public domain information to research copyright questions.

A price tag of $86,625 places this database beyond the reach of university libraries, small businesses that wish to provide a better copyright search service, and academics or citizens wishing to analyze the copyright registration process. Additionally, setting copyright restrictions on the copyright database, a “work of the United States Government,” runs directly counter to the well-established principle that such works shall be in the public domain.

Although the Copyright Office's site is well-designed, copyright data could be used in many different ways if there was not a $86,625 barrier to entry. Indeed, patents and trademarks, the other two legs of our intellectual property system, are available in bulk and at no charge on the Internet. Anybody can build a better patent or trademark system, and many people have.

The simple path is for the U.S. Copyright Office to make these data available today for free on an FTP server or web site, as are many of the other Library of Congress products, including several other databases from your office. If a charge is imposed, it should be the marginal time and materials to make one copy, not an internal profit center. The Library of Congress has been a pioneer in making information available to the public, and providing the copyright database is directly in line with the forward-thinking policies adopted throughout the Library.

Sometimes, of course, the right path is not the most straightforward. We understand that in the short term, sales of the database may be a significant source of revenue for the Copyright Office. However, a few $86,625 sales pale in comparison to the value of a properly functioning copyright system. In fact, a recent study by the Computer & Communications Industry Assocation estimated that our system of copyrights and fair use provides over $2.2 trillion in value-added to our economy. Your database contains the information at the heart of that system.

There are a variety of reasons we can imagine that would not allow the Copyright Office to make a short-term decision to permit this database to be freely available. It is conceivable, for example, that budgetary requirements or the assent of congressional oversight committees might impose a longer window for change.

As a short-term expedient, should the Copyright Office be unable to obtain permission to make these data freely and directly available, we would like to offer to set up a collective fund for purchase of a single copy of the database, making it available for anyone to use. This would provide a public distribution channel—a safety valve for public access to this vital public database. We ask only that you help us clarify that there is no copyright on the database so that we may freely redistribute it.

In the 109th Annual Report of the Register of Copyrights, you gave an accounting of a “transition into a wholly new way of doing business.” We share your excitement at these changes in the operation of the U.S. Copyright Office and ask that as part of your “complete reengineering of our business processes” you make this fundamental database available to the public at no charge.

Carl Malamud
President & CEO
Peter Brantley
Executive Director
Digital Library Federation
Michael A. Keller
Ida M. Green University Librarian
Stanford University
Pamela Samuelson
Richard M. Sherman Distinguished Professor
   of Law & Information
University of California, Berkeley
H. Carton Rogers
Vice Provost & Director of Libraries
University of Pennsylvania
Robert Darnton
Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor
Director, Harvard University Library
Thomas C. Leonard
Kenneth and Dorothy Hill University Librarian
University of California, Berkeley
Duane Webster
Executive Director
Association of Research Libraries
Gigi B. Sohn
Public Knowledge
Ann J. Wolpert
Director of Libraries
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Rick Prelinger
Board President
Internet Archive


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Copyright via RSS — Peter Brantley October 18, 2007
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