Working in collaboration with the Corporation for National Research Initiatives, a technology and research consultant, the Library of Congress is working on a project to enable electronic copyright registration of books and other materials. Michael Burke, chief of the Library of Congress copyright automation group, told PW that the LOC receives about 600,000 applications a year for copyright registration and "40% of those applications come from 2,000 high-volume remitters—publishers." About 5% of copyright applications are now handled electronically.

The automated project began in 1996. It has been developed using off-the-shelf software, "in order to show that it would work," said Burke. The project has been adding better software components and increasing the amount of materials that can be registered electronically. Electronic registration costs $30 (applicants must open an account with cash or check, said Burke; credit card payment is still to come). The system will accept documents in the PDF format as well as Mp3 sound files, source code and "anything that can be transmitted electronically," said Burke.

Once an application is received, the system routes it to a copyright examiner, who checks the document and sends it on to a cataloguer. The system also includes an encrypted digital authentication of the document and the owner. The applicant receives e-mail notification of each step (as well as alerts to any problems with the application) and finally a printed certificate of copyright.

Burke told PW that McGraw-Hill was the first publisher to use the automated system to register e-books. Earlier this month, the publisher registered copyrights for The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Wireless Web and The Business Week Guide to the Best Business Schools. "The system is aimed at large publishers," said Burke. "It's still a work in progress. But there's no keyboarding and no paper movement. It will save the copyright office considerable time and money."