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Searching the U.S. Copyright Office

Recordation as Constructive Notice. — Recordation of a document in the Copyright Office gives all persons constructive notice of the facts stated in the recorded document, but only if

  • (1) the document, or material attached to it, specifically identifies the work to which it pertains so that, after the document is indexed by the Register of Copyrights, it would be revealed by a reasonable search under the title or registration number of the work; and
  • (2) registration has been made for the work.

17 USC §205

How can I determine if an artwork has copyright?

“There are several ways to investigate whether a work is under copyright protection and, if so, the facts of the copyright. These are the main ones:

  1. Examine a copy of the work for such elements as a copyright notice, place and date of publication, author and publisher. If the work is a sound recording, examine the disc, tape cartridge, or cassette in which the recorded sound is fixed, or the album cover, sleeve, or container in which the recording is sold.
  2. Make a search of the Copyright Office catalogs and other records.
  3. Have the Copyright Office conduct a search for you.

“Copyright investigations often involve more than one of these methods. Even if you follow all three approaches, the results may not be conclusive.”
U.S. Copyright Office, Circular 22

How can I determine who owns the copyright?

“Anyone interested in a work who does not know the copyright owner can search the records of the Copyright Office or ask the Office to conduct a search for an hourly fee.”
U.S. Copyright Office, Circular 14

Can I search online?

“Copyright registrations made and documents recorded from 1978 to date are available for searching online.”
U.S. Copyright Office, FAQ

How much does an online search cost?

“There is no fee if you conduct a search in person at the U.S. Copyright Office.”
U.S. Copyright Office, FAQ

What is the cost for searches of works made before 1978?

“The U.S. Copyright Office can provide you with the information available in their records. A search of registrations, renewals, and recorded transfers of ownership made before 1978 requires a manual search of their files. Upon request, their staff will search their records at the statutory rate of $165 for each hour (2 hour minimum).”
U.S. Copyright Office, FAQ

Can I obtain copies of registration certificates?

“A certificate of registration for any registered work can be obtained for a fee of $35.”
U.S. Copyright Office, FAQ

How can I obtain copies of someone else’s work?

“The U.S. Copyright Office will not honor a request for a copy of someone else’s protected work without written authorization from the copyright owner or from his or her designated agent, unless the work is involved in litigation.”
U.S. Copyright Office, FAQ

Works made between 1891 and 1977

“The Copyright Office published the Catalog of Copyright Entries (CCE) in printed format from 1891 through 1978. … A number of libraries throughout the U.S. maintain copies of the CCE, and this may provide a good starting point if you wish to make a search yourself. [However, because] the CCE does not include entries for assignments or other recorded documents, it cannot be used for searches involving the ownership of rights. .. [The CCE] does not contain the address of the copyright claimant.”
U.S. Copyright Office, Circular 22

Works made after 1977

“… the only method of searching outside the Library of Congress is by using the Internet to access the online catalog. The online catalog contains entries from 1978 to the present.”
U.S. Copyright Office, Circular 22

“.. Copyright Office records in machine-readable form cataloged from January 1, 1978, to the present, including registration and renewal information and recorded documents, are available for searching from the Copyright Office website at”
U.S. Copyright Office, Circular 22

Is a search of the Copyright Office conclusive?

“Searches of the Copyright Office catalogs and records are useful in helping to determine the copyright status of a work, but they cannot be regarded as conclusive in all cases. The complete absence of any information about a work in the Office records does not mean that the work is unprotected.”
U.S. Copyright Office, Circular 22

What about photos?

“In the case of photographs, it is sometimes difficult to determine who owns the copyright and there may be little or no information about the owner on individual copies.”
U.S. Copyright Office, FAQ

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