Third edition of USA copyright office compendium – serials

A serial is a work that is issued or intended to be issued in successive parts bearing numerical or chronological designations that are intended to be continued indefinitely.

Examples include periodicals, newspapers, magazines, newsletters, journals, bulletins, annuals, the proceedings of societies, and other similar works. Examples of works that do not fall within this category include episodes of a television series, a series of online videos, a collection of musical works, a group of manuscripts, an assortment of poetry, or a set of advertising copies.

Most serials are collective works, because they typically contain “a number of contributions, constituting separate and independent works in themselves, that are assembled into a collective whole.” As such, they typically contain two different types of authorship:

  • The authorship in the compilation, which may involve selecting, coordinating, and/or arranging a number of separate and independent works within the serial as a whole, and/or revising the serial as a whole.
  • The authorship in the separate and independent works that have been included within the serial, which may contain literary expression and/or artistic expression.

As with any other type of collective work, an applicant may register a serial together with the separate and independent works contained therein, (i) if the claimant owns the copyright in the serial and the contributions, and (ii) if those contributions have not been previously published or registered. In no case may the claimant register a contribution that is in the public domain.

A registration (draft) for a single issue of a serial publication covers the particular issue that has been submitted for registration, as well as any contributions that may be included within the claim. The U.S. Copyright Office does not offer “blanket registrations” that cover future issues or future contributions to that publication.

The applicant should identify the copyrightable authorship that the applicant intends to register, and the applicant should assert a claim to copyright in that material. If the applicant only intends to register the authorship involved in creating the issue as a whole, the applicant should assert a claim in the “compilation.” If the applicant intends to register the authorship involved in creating the issue as a whole, as well as the individual contributions that appear within that issue, the applicant may assert a claim in both the “compilation” and the “contributions to a collective work.” Alternatively, the applicant may assert a claim in both the “compilation” and the specific form of authorship that appears in each contribution, such as “text,” “photographs,” or “artwork.”

An applicant may register an issue together with the articles, photographs, or other contributions contained therein (i) if the claimant owns the copyright in the individual contributions and the issue as a whole, and (ii) if the contributions have not been previously published or previously registered. In no case may the claimant register a contribution that is in the public domain.

If the copyright in the individual contributions and the issue as a whole are owned by different parties, or if the contributions were previously published or previously registered, the applicant generally must submit a separate application for each contribution.

If the claimant is not the author of the issue as a whole or is not the author(s) of the individual contributions that appear within that issue, the applicant should provide a transfer statement explaining how the claimant obtained the copyright in the issue as a whole or a particular contribution, as appropriate.

If the issue contains an appreciable amount of previously published material, previously registered material, public domain material, or material that is not owned by the copyright claimant, the applicant should exclude that material from the claim.

If an International Standard Serial Number (“ISSN”) has been assigned to the serial, the applicant is strongly encouraged to include that information in the online application. If the applicant provides an ISSN, the number will appear on the certificate of registration and the online public record. Providing this information is useful, because an ISSN may be used to search and retrieve the registration records for a particular serial. However, providing an ISSN is optional and an application will be accepted even if this portion of the application is left blank.