Third edition of USA copyright office compendium – examination practices

When the U.S. Copyright Office determines that the material deposited constitutes copyrightable subject matter and that the other legal and formal requirements of U.S. copyright law have been met, it will register the claim and send the applicant a certificate of registration under the seal of the U.S. Copyright Office.

The Office has certain general policies it employs when an application is unclear on its face, when there are ambiguities in the application, and/or contradictions between the statements provided in the application and the information contained in the deposit copy(ies), when required information is missing, or when the deposit copy(ies) are incomplete or otherwise fail to meet the applicable requirements.

The examination process involves the examination of the application, the deposit copy(ies), the filing fee, all other material that has been submitted to the U.S. Copyright Office, and all communications between the applicant and the Office relating to the registration of the claim. Together, these materials are collectively known as the “registration materials.” As a general rule, the U.S. Copyright Office accepts the facts stated in the registration materials, unless they are contradicted by information provided elsewhere in the registration materials or in the Office’s records.

When examining a claim to copyright, the U.S. Copyright Office generally does not compare deposit copy(ies) to determine whether the work for which registration is sought is substantially similar to another work. Likewise, the Office generally does not conduct searches to determine whether the work has been previously registered. Ordinarily, the Office does not conduct investigations or make findings of fact to confirm the truth of any statement made in an application, such as whether a work has been published or not.

An applicant may submit a request to withdraw a pending application at any time before the U.S. Copyright Office has issued a certificate of registration or has refused to register the claim.

The U.S. Copyright Office has the exclusive authority to issue certificates of registration establishing the prima facie validity of the facts stated in the certificate. On occasion, the Office may register a claim to copyright, even though the Office has reasonable doubt as to whether the material submitted for registration constitutes copyrightable subject matter or whether the other legal and formal requirements of the statute have been met. This practice is known as the Rule of Doubt. The Rule of Doubt notifies the claimant, the courts, and the general public that the Office is unwilling to grant a presumption of validity to certain aspects of the claim.

In exceptional cases, the Office may apply the Rule of Doubt (draft) if the Office has not taken a position on a legal issue that is directly relevant to whether the work constitutes copyrightable subject matter or whether the other legal and formal requirements of the statute have been met. The Office will not register a claim under the Rule of Doubt simply because there is some uncertainty as to how that issue may be decided by a particular court.