The Copyright Office recently issued a press release in their "Newsnet," Issue 341, April 14, 2008, announcing what everyone else already knew. The Copyright Office is getting seriously behind in processing copyright applications and issuing registration certificates. In fact, the official time lag for receiving a certificate is now "up to 8 months." This is not an inconsiderable pendency since as recently as a year ago certificates were being issued within 4 to 6 months. The problem of pendency becomes even worse in relationship to when the information actually appears on the public records which may be some time after the registration issues. This means that the public which is bound by the legal effects of the copyright registration as of the original filing date, may not even be aware that an application has been filed, or have any way of easily investigating online, for up to a year after such filing date which is, legally speaking, also the "effective date of a copyright registration" under Section 410(d) of the Copyright Act.

The reason for the delay, ironically, is the Copyright Office’s attempt to reengineer and streamline the copyright registration process to make it more efficient and, in theory, faster while, at the same time, designing and implementing an electronic registration filing system designed to create a paperless office somewhat akin to what the Patent and Trademark Office has already accomplished. Oddly enough, if the Copyright Office had simply retained the old procedures, certificates of registration would be more timely. The Copyright Office will eventually iron out the problems in the new procedures and eliminate the software "bugs" in the electronic registration system. At that point, the pendency will likely then be reduced. In the meantime, the public can probably expect ongoing delays not that much dissimilar than during a major road construction project which makes things much worse in the name of "improvement", hence…an improvement for the worse…at least in the indeterminate short term.

The public has two potential options to avoid some of these construction delays. The first is the old, but expensive, standby of requesting "special handling" provided that the applicant has an articulable need for specific litigation or a genuinely urgent business reason such a closing a loan transaction. Such "special handling" usually yield a registration certificate in 5 to 10 business days. Unfortunately, the speed comes with a price tag. While the regular application costs $45, each and every "special" application costs a whopping $730. The second option is to be adventurous and try out the new electronic filing system. While some applicants may still find it difficult to use because of the nature of the registration and the required deposit (such as a 35mm motion picture print for a theatrically released feature film), others filing for works such as musical compositions and text-based works — all of which are easily reducible to manageable electronic file formats — should find the process relatively simple. The electronic process costs only $35 per application. Furthermore, anecdotal evidence suggests that an electronically filed copyright application will be processed relatively quickly with some applicants reporting the issuance of such electronic registrations within three to four weeks of filing.

If neither the special handling nor electronic option is viable, all other applicants will need the patience of a passenger in an airport or a driver stuck behind break lights in a construction zone while the Copyright Office completes its improvements for — what appears to the casual observer — the worse.