The Constitution gives Congress the power to enact laws establishing a system of copyright in the United States. Congress enacted the first federal copyright law in May 1790, and the first work was registered within two weeks. Originally, claims were recorded by clerks of U.S. district courts. Not until 1870 were copyright functions centralized in the Library of Congress under the direction of then Librarian of Congress Ainsworth Rand Spofford. The Copyright Office became a separate department of the Library of Congress in 1897, and Thorvald Solberg was appointed the first Register of Copyrights.
Today the Copyright Office is an important service unit of the Library of Congress. With public offices located at 101 Independence Avenue, S.E., Washington, D.C., the Office occupies portions of the James Madison Memorial Building and employs approximately 475 people. The Office yearly registers half a million claims to copyright, records more than 11,000 documents containing hundreds of thousands of titles, and collects for later distribution to copyright holders a quarter of a billion dollars in cable television, satellite carrier, and Audio Home Recording Act compulsory license funds. Since 1870, the Copyright Office has registered more than 33,200,000 claims to copyright and mask works and provided many millions of deposits (including books, serials, motion pictures, music, sound recordings, maps, prints, pictures, and computer works) to the collections of the Library of Congress. The Library has been greatly enhanced through the operations of the copyright system, and copyright deposits form the heart of the Library’s Americana collections.
Functions of the Copyright Office
The mission of the Copyright Office is to promote creativity by administering and sustaining an effective national copyright system.
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