In Chapter 6 I lay out several of the major challenges confronting photographers and other visual artists. Among them is the outdated and outmoded definition of “publication” set forth in Section 101 of the Copyright Act. That definition says, on the one hand, that “offering to distribute copies . . . to a group of persons for purposes of further distribution, public performance, or public display, constitutes a publication.” But goes on to say that a mere “public performance or display of a work does not of itself constitute publication.”
The definition was relatively easy to apply in the pre-internet era, where it was fairly obvious what was “published,” but as distribution technology has evolved, the Copyright Act has remained static, calling into question whether works posted online are “published” as contemplated by the Act. Because the requirements for copyright registration differ based on the publication status, and because registration is required before a copyright owner can enforce his or her rights in court, the distinction is critical.
On December 4 the Copyright Office announced it has launched an inquiry into the issue, with the intent of ultimately providing some guidance on “interpreting the statutory definition of publication and the role that publication should play in copyright law and the registration process.”
Comments are due by 11:59 p.m. on February 3, 2020. You can learn more about the inquiry on the Copyright Office’s website.