Just around this time last year, I mailed off the required deposit copies of our Zombie Ranch trade paperback to the U.S. Copyright Office, seeking at long last for a formal registration. I figured with all the other milestones the production of the trade represented, why not?
Now I’ve talked at length about copyright in the past and how these days they get established by default without any actual need to register them — the registration just comes into play if you ever feel the need to sue someone for infringement and collect damages. In our case I’m not really hoping that case ever comes to pass, but I wanted to go through the experience of doing a registration. Plus your work gets to be filed in the Library of Congress for posterity. That seems pretty cool.
So first warning: I filed my application and paid my $55 fee electronically on August 22th, 2015. My priority mailed deposit copies arrived in Washington, D.C. on August 31st, so if you’re reading this on the Wednesday of its publication that marks exactly one year. The filing is, at this time, still pending.
Now part of that glacial pace is just the turnaround time of the office, which lists a standard frame of 6-8 months for an e-filing (longer for pure paper applications) and specifies that any inquiries into status will only be answered once the tail end of that timeframe has passed. In other words, I needed to wait a minimum of 8 months before I could even ask what has happening and expect a response. Gubmint, amirite? But whatever, they assure you that once everything is finally squared away, your copyright will be appropriately backdated to the time of submission.
So I calculated that 8 months would be the end of May of this year, and once June rolled around with no certificate in my mailbox and an online status that still read “Pending” just as it had since the beginning, I sent that status inquiry… and to someone’s credit, a clerk responded within about a week apologizing for the delay and promising to expedite the process and that I should receive my certificate in a few weeks. Woo!
Of course that was right around the time we got our late confirmation for San Diego Comic-Con and ended up in a mad scramble of preparation, followed by post-con exhaustion. August came and no certificate arrived, and it was perhaps sheer serendipitous chance that I checked my junk email folder around then and found the copyright office had followed up on July 19th, only to be unceremoniously shunted to spam. And unfortunately, it seemed there was a snag. My declaration on the trade paperback that it collected “Issues #1-7” had been noted and it was declared that material previously published was not eligible for registration. If there was new material it could be eligible but would have to be specifically itemized.
Of course that wasn’t nearly as bad as the notice at the end of the email: “…if we do not receive a response to this message within 20 days, we will close this case without processing your registration or notifying you further…”. It was Saturday, August 6th and by my calculations 20 days would be August 8th. Yikes.
I was not happy — though mostly not happy with myself. Still, I composed and sent off a response. First off the groveling apology for almost(?) missing the deadline. Then the admission it was our first time doing this, so please bear with our ignorance. The issue content in question had been touched up, resized and relettered for the edition, did that count?
The answer came quickly enough on that Monday: no, it did not. Only previously unpublished art and text would qualify, and again would need specific declarations of inclusion and exclusion from the application. In addition, they noticed the Introduction page read “by Justin Robinson”. Was I claiming material provided by another author? If so, a work for hire agreement would have to be declared and filed.
Again also the ominous 20 day notice, and here I was due to leave on vacation in two days. Oy. Well, with the clock reset I decided to deal with all that when I came back, and so I have, with what should have been about six days to spare.
So yeah, this all so far has been a slower and more complicated process than I could have imagined, though of course some of that slowness is my fault, and since the whole point of formal registration is potential use in legal actions, I suppose I should have expected there would be a lot of exacting requirements. I await further response, and in the meantime you better believe I’m keeping a close eye on that stupid junk email folder.