LEGAL NEWS: US to Allow Influencers and Bloggers to Group-Copyright Blogs (and Potentially Memes)

In a pivotal move for copyright law, the United States Copyright Office announced that bloggers and influencers will now be able to register groups of copyrights for shorter-form material such as micro-blogs and larger blog articles.

To qualify for this new registration option, each work to be registered must meet the following requirements:

  • Each work must contain at least 50 but not more than 17,500 words;

  • Each work must be created by the same individual (or jointly by the same individuals);

  • Each creator must be named as the copyright claimant(s) for each work;

  • Collective works must all be published online within a three-calendar-month period;

  • Each work must be in the form of "text" and not any other form of authorship;

  • Each individual work must have a title and and each group of works must also have a group title;

  • Each work must have a determinable publication date and place; and

  • Each copyright registration application may contain up to 50 works.

This new copyright registration procedure will be known as "group registration" and will cost the same as filing a standard copyright registration application ($65). The US Copyright Office noted that the application will often benefit non-corporate authorship and works, though it declined to impose a lower filing fee than the standard application.

Generally speaking, group registration of copyrighted material makes a lot of sense in today's world. With traditional, paper publications like magazines, newspapers, and professional journals yielding ground to shorter-form, less professional copy such as online blogs, one wonders why the US Copyright Office waited so long.

In its announcement, the US Copyright Office explains some of the history and rationale:

This rulemaking was initiated in response to a petition jointly submitted by the National Writers Union (‘‘NWU’’), the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc. (‘‘SFWA’’), and the Horror Writers Association, requesting a rulemaking to create a new group registration option to accommodate works distributed online by individual writers, that would not qualify as contributions to periodicals. (footnote omitted) The petition requested that the Office create a new group registration procedure for ‘‘short-form works’’ which would allow individual writers to submit one ‘‘application and fee every three months.’’ (footnote omitted) The Authors Guild, the Association of Garden Communicators, the Society of Children’s Book Authors and Illustrators, the Songwriters Guild of America, and the Textbook & Academic Authors Association endorsed this petition. (footnote omitted) They stated that writers ‘‘urgently need a group registration [option] for short pieces, especially those disseminated online,’’ including ‘‘blogs, public Facebook posts . . ., short articles, and even copyrightable tweets.’’

That last part is probably most interesting. For those who can remember the internet before it became just five websites that contain screenshots of posts from the other four, platforms like Facebook and Twitter were originally viewed by many as micro-blogging websites for common people. If the intent is to allow for copyright registration of micro-blogs and other published "works" on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, which are basically meme machines at this point, it has potential to create an extreme amount of copyright litigation, as well as enforcement issues.

Originally, the previously proposed group registration rule required that works be a minimum of 100 words. After receiving comments from several major writing organizations and individuals, the US Copyright Office caved and lowered the minimum word count to just 50 words.

That is incredibly important because, ostensibly, now you can copyright tweets that appear on your Twitter account. Unfortunately for meme creators, the requirements exclude "visual works" (i.e., memes that are pictures or videos such as GIFs). The US Copyright Office said that "for reasons of administrability," the US Copyright Office is not prepared to expand the group registration rules to include visual works.

The new rules exclude comments to authored works, such as comments by other persons made to copyrighted tweets or Facebook posts.

An issue that has not yet been addressed is whether thread-style posting like that seen on Twitter constitutes a group of works or one whole work. That is especially important because tweets are limited to 240 characters (not words), meaning individual tweets likely will not qualify for copyright registration because they cannot reach the 50-word minimum.

As far as predictions go, we predict that this new copyright process will be important for social media influencers and full-time bloggers looking to create and make money off of their posts and blogs. Especially for freelance bloggers, this may give well-written blogs a new lease on life through copyright license agreements and royalty arrangements.

Once the application process has been finalized and goes live, the new application should appear here.

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