Copyright Office sets sights on paper-free registrations

Copyright Office sets sights on paper-free registrations


The Library of Congress’ Copyright Office now handles about 5 percent of its workflow entirely online. No paper is involved except for the final copyright certificate mailed for legal reasons, and even that soon will become optional.

The prototype workflow system, dubbed the Copyright Office Electronic Registration, Recordation and Deposit System, “is working very well,” said Mike Burke, one of CORDS’ developers. “We want to make sure we have enough storage in place and budgeting for future storage before we open it to high volume.”

This month CORDS, a Unix system built with help from the Corporation for National Research Initiatives of Reston, Va., received the first two full-length electronic books to be registered electronically: McGraw-Hill Companies’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Wireless Web and The BusinessWeek Guide to the Best Business Schools.

So far, CORDS has registered about 40,000 shorter works, including college dissertations, technical reports, computer programs and music.

Burke said large works often arrive as TIFF page images encapsulated in Adobe Portable Document Format, taking up about 15M each. But the two e-books came as PDF files and occupy only about 500K of storage each.

Total storage demand for electronic works so far is about 400M on a RAID cluster at the library’s data center, he said.

Music files come in MP3 format. The office is experimenting with electronic registration of photographs in JPEG format.

Registrants must maintain a deposit account with the office to pay the $30 fee per application—“the same as paper applicants,” Burke said.

To ensure that works came are legitimate and were not altered or corrupted in transmission, the Copyright Office uses a form of public-key infrastructure.

Submissions must be encrypted and digitally signed via the MIME Object Security Services protocol from Trusted Information Systems, a unit of Network Associates Inc. of Santa Clara, Calif.

The Copyright Office decrypts each submission using the sender’s public key and runs a checksum error-detection scheme before and after.

Senders can e-mail their submissions using client software downloadable from to package the components, or they can upload batch submissions via File Transfer Protocol to an external server run by the Copyright Office.

CORDS automatically acknowledges receipt, debits the sender’s deposit account and tracks the submission. The copyright examiners and catalogers all work on-screen without paper copies.

DARPA support

CORDS, under development since 1993, has had support from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Marybeth Peters, the register of copyrights, said in a statement that CORDS will help the Library of Congress “acquire new publications in digital form.” The library has drawn criticism from the National Academy of Sciences for losing sight of electronic works in its emphasis on paper collections [GCN, Aug. 21, 2000, Page 1].

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