If you’re thinking about registering your copyright in your blog entries, the Copyright Office has created a new mechanism to make it easier and cheaper to do.  Obviously, that begs the question of whether you should do it.  If your blog entries are something special, and you think that they have genuine commercial value, then by all means you should register.  To my mind, the decision on whether or not to register is driven by the financial cost and the mechanical hassle of registration, on the one hand, and the procedural and substantive benefit that registration gives you in the event of infringement, on the other hand.  Reasonable minds can differ. 

Form GTRX for “group registration of online short literary works” allows you to register, on a single form, between 2 and 50 works that were published within the three months immediately preceding the date of publication.  It costs $65, which is a bargain because the fee for registering a one-off work by a single author is $45, so there’s a tremendous economy of scale.  That suggests that the Copyright Office really wants you to register the copyrights in published works: when combined with the deposit requirement, the result encourages the creation of a central registry where possibly infringing content can easily be compared to registered works.

Note here that while the Copyright Act doesn’t define the word “published”, the new regulation (37 CFR § 202.4(j)(1)) makes clear that posting on a website is “publication”.  There doesn’t have to be money involved, underscoring the common wisdom of those who practice in this field.  When you click “publish” on WordPress, you’ve “published” for purposes of the Copyright Act and the rules regarding “published works” apply to those works.  In this sense, publication is the act of converting the work from something that has limited distribution intended for private eyes – think “letter to your friend” – and something that the strangers are free to see or to buy.

What’s the advantage of group registration, if any?  Under the prior practice, group registration of literary works was only available for unpublished works, and then only for up to 10 separate works.  It was not a practical form for bloggers to use because bloggers finish their work and then hit “publish”; they often don’t let their thoughts ripen for a week or more so the works rarely qualify as “unpublished”.[1]  So, if you as a blogger wanted to register your works as soon as they hit the web, you’d have to do it under the earlier practice once for each individual blog entry, at a price of $45 each.  That starts to add up quickly.

Now Form GTRX is available.  Works that are between 50 and 17,500 words are eligible for registration on this form.  The upper end limit is high enough to encompass entire book chapters, short stories, novellas, and many plays (Macbeth is shorter!) 

For an interesting aside – also to be the subject of some future post – focus on the 50-word minimum.  “Social media posts” are specifically included in the list of types of works that can be registered on Form GTRX.  Assuming an average word has 5 characters, you can only fit 48 words into the longest-permissible tweet.  Comedians use Twitter as a cheap and easy way to stake out claims to jokes.  If you’re past 50 words on a joke, you’ve lost the audience, so the 240 character limit in Twitter is ideal for “publishing” a quick laugh.  The shorter the joke, though, the more likely it is that someone’s told it before, so the continuing requirement that you pay $45 to register the copyright in a single published joke that’s shorter than 50 words means that you’re going to think twice before you claim originality in something that made you laugh in the shower. 


[1] This invites the question of why you would ever register a copyright in an unpublished draft.  There are circumstances where that makes sense, but it’s the subject of a to-be-written post.