The proposal describes a universal online system where a large number of private companies would be involved in the processing of copyright registration of original works. The system would include a giant database of all the registered works. Futhermore, the private registrars would serve as authorized representatives of the works. They would be allowed to sell or license a work. They could even negotiate the price of a work with a potential user. As a result, Mr. Heller argues that ‘because there would be many such companies, the higher volume of servicing agents would not only lower the cost of processing applications (thus, lowering fees), but also increase the capacity of applications that can be processed.’ This would encourage creators to register their works online and allow the little guys, not only those with deep pockets, to be protected.
Under Canadian law, to register a work costs $50. In the U.S., the determination of a fee is more complex with the cheapest registration at about $35. Compared to the registration of other intellectual property (for example patents or trademarks) copyright registration fees are low. However, it should be acknowledged that copyright protection could become quite expensive for a professional photographer such as Mr. Heller, who might want to protect the thousands of photographs he takes each year. It could also be time-consuming to file individual registration applications, even if some bundling of multiple photos is allowed under the same application. So how would Mr. Heller’s private system be better than the existing government-run registration?
The proposed system promises lower fees and higher processing efficiency. However, it seems to me that creating the proposed system requires a huge capital investment. It would be quite expensive to set up and develop a new universal system accessible to everyone, to find companies that are able to operate the system, and to turn the existing Copyright Office into a government body that exercises sufficient supervision so that all of the ‘private registrars’ apply the law consistently when granting registration. Thus it is unclear how investing in such a system would potentially reduce registration fees below those currently administered.
I agree with Mr. Heller that with the tremendous increase in internet-generated content, the current system is not fit to provide copyright protection for all creators. Yet, I am not convinced that the proper approach is to completely abandon the current system and put it in the hands of private entities. Rather we should first look at reforming the current system and only if such reforms prove costly and unattainable should we look at the alternative of privatizing copyright registration.