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Copyright Office Softens Fee Hikes in Proposal to Congress

Oct. 21, 2019, 7:11 PM

The U.S. Copyright Office has softened some of its planned fee increases and eliminated plans to nearly double fees to register groups of photos, in a proposed schedule submitted to Congress.

The Copyright Office said it will maintain its $55 fee to register up to 750 photos in a group after photographers and others blasted plans to raise it to $100. The agency also lessened other planned increases to reduce the burden on small, high-volume creators, it said.

The office has submitted the final fee adjustments to Congress with an eye toward offering incentives to register creative works digitally. Paper-based transaction fees would generally increase more than digital ones under the proposed fee schedule. By law, the office can institute the new fees 120 days after the submission—in this case Feb. 13—unless Congress objects.

The Copyright Office evaluates its fee structure every three to five years. The agency launched the most recent fee study in 2017, and hired an outside analyst for the first time in 17 years.

The agency projected $4.3 million in lost fees in the 2019 fiscal year due to the 2018 Music Modernization Act eliminating a certain type of notice filing for digital music, and additional undisclosed costs to regulate and administer the law. It said it didn’t try to recoup those losses through fees because the MMA took effect after the public comment period on the fee hikes closed, and because additional fee increases could drive away users.

The agency also said it wasn’t looking to fee hikes to cover upgrades to its information technology system. Commenters complained that such increases would fund office technology “on the backs of small creators who are already struggling,” the agency said in its schedule to Congress.

Under the proposed fee schedule, fees for standard electronic applications would rise from $55 to $65, half the increase proposed last year, while paper filings would rise from $85 to $125. Ownership changes of a copyright would increase from $105 to $125 but will cost just $95 once the office creates a digital filing system.

The fee to fix errors or add information to a copyright would rise from $130 to $150 for paper submissions but drop to $100 for digital submissions. The fee to register a group of unpublished works would increase from $55 to $85.

The Copyright Office didn’t alter its plan to significantly increase the cost of updating and revising databases, which have no limits on the number of works. Updates to photographic databases would cost $250 rather than $55, and updates to other databases would cost $500, up from $85. Those increases still doesn’t cover the agency’s processing costs, it said in the Oct.16 submission to Congress.

The fees pay for most, but not all, of the Copyright Office’s operating costs. Attempting to fully fund the agency with higher fees would drive away users and reduce revenue long-term, the agency said. Any fee increases generally cause a drop in claims, “at least temporarily in the months immediately following implementation,” it said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kyle Jahner in Washington at kjahner@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rebecca Baker at rbaker@bloomberglaw.com; Keith Perine at kperine@bloomberglaw.com