Compendium of U.S. Copyright Office Practices, Third Edition

Compendium of U.S. Copyright Office Practices, Third Edition

 On 19 August 2014, Register of Copyrights Maria A. Pallante released a draft of the Compendium of U.S. Copyright Office Practices, Third Edition. This publication is a 1,200 page document that in many parts reads as a treatise on U.S. copyright law. Its size alone speaks to the complexity of identifying and protecting copyright and intellectual property in its many forms. The Compendium sets out administrative practices relating to registration and recordation policy and provides very specific guidelines on registration, documentation, and recordation. According to the U.S. Copyright Office, the Compendium will serve not only as an operations guide for Copyright Office staff but also a users’ guide for those who create works and might require assistance in understanding and protecting their rights.

Organization of the Compendium

The Compendium is divided into chapters and begins with an overview of U.S. copyright law and the Copyright Office. This section is particularly useful because it outlines the various offices and divisions within the Copyright Office (an office significantly larger than its equivalent under the auspices of the Canadian Intellectual Property Office.) This is a huge aid to those of us trying to navigate the U.S. Copyright Office and the myriad services it provides. It also outlines important milestones in the history of U.S. copyright law. It continues with the registration process, identifying who may register a work and how to determine what works may be registered in the Copyright Office. It then has separate chapters on copyrightable works including literary, performing arts, visual arts, websites, masks and vessel hulls. Included are some excellent charts that enhance interpretation of the Compendium; for example, page 46 of the Compendium has a decision-making chart to help you determine the appropriate steps to take when registering a work with the Copyright Office; page 93 includes an “at a glance” chart intended to clarify who may file a copyright registration application.

One of the many benefits of the Compendium as an electronic publication is the ability to include hyperlinks to related material. In addition to very detailed and specific definitions and explanations, this document incorporates hyperlinks to significant House of Representatives Reports, relevant sections of the Federal Register, and U.S. Code of Federal Regulations. This design allows you to easily and quickly access the level of information you need.


Prior editions of the Compendium were for the most part internally directed and this third edition, the first major revision in over 20 years, is a comprehensive overhaul that makes the practices and standards of the Copyright Office accessible and transparent to the public. The Compendium addresses basic copyright principles such as standards of copyright-ability, joint authorship, work for hire, and routine questions like fees, records retrieval and other procedural issues. The compendium will be of help to anyone seeking in-depth information on which applications for copyright registration will be accepted by the U.S. Copyright Office, who may file a copyright registration application, examination practices, and Copyright Office services.

It is important to note that the Compendium does not “have the force and effect of law”; it is intended for use as an administrative manual or guide with appropriate references to the overarching laws from which it draws. However, the Compendium has been cited in many copyright cases (see some examples on page 5 of the Compendium) and is a well-respected voice in copyright because of its “compelling” and “persuasive” interpretations and reasoning.

Also of note is that portions of previous versions of the Compendium remain in effect; one example offered in the Compendium is that Chapter 1200 of Compendium II “continues to be the governing manual concerning the manufacturing clause” for works published prior to June 30, 1986, the expiration date of that clause.

Included in the Compendium is a thorough explanation of the examination process to determine that a work is “copyrightable” and to ensure that all requirements have been met, as well as how to appeal an application that has been refused.

A History of Firsts

Registration of copyright materials over time builds an astonishing cultural database chronicling a history of intellectual and creative endeavor since 1897. The Compendium touches briefly on the many “firsts” in the evolution of rights and protection; coupled with the timeline of copyright history beginning on page 24, it amounts to more than just trivia, it affords insight into trends in rights protection and management that may well open a window into the future of copyright.

 A “Living” Document

The Compendium is at  It remains in draft form for 120 days pending final review and implementation and is expected to become final in December 2014. Once final, this compendium will be available on the U.S. Copyright Office website and will be searchable electronically, with links that will vastly enhance its usability and clarity. Each chapter is prefaced by a detailed index for increased usability. The Copyright Office has expressed its intent that the Compendium be a “living” document that is electronically updated as required; to that end, the Office encourages public comment on the Compendium for both content and accessibility.

Lesley is a lawyer, author, educator, and Osgoode alumnus (’85). Her book, Canadian Copyright Law, Fourth Edition, was recently published by Wiley. You can read more of Lesley’s posts at  - See more at: