The role of the Copyright Offices in the Americas

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The role of the Copyright Offices in the Americas may be very different. Despite the main goal of every Copyright Office in each country being to guarantee the protection of copyrights, authors, and neighboring rights, there are some offices that have broader attributions than others. In some countries, such as Colombia, one may find a broader intervention of the Copyright Office in Collective Societies, while in others like Argentina there is no intervention of the Copyright Office in this matter and there is a separate entity that does this role. Due to these types of interesting differences, the aim of this article is to identify a selection of particularities in twenty-one countries of the American Region.

1. Registration of works:

  • Cost: The only country in which the registration of works before the Copyright Office is gratuitous (free) is Colombia; in the rest of the countries there is an official fee that usually is reasonable for the user.
  • Online registration: There are only 6 countries (Canada, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, U.S.A. and Peru) in which registration may be made online and the there is still a tendency to file applications in paper.
  • Estimated for registered works in 2015: The countries with the most registered works in 2015 were USA with an estimate of 550,000, Colombia with 69,000, Argentina with 52,000 and Mexico with 48,000.
  • Registration procedure (Duration, Publication and Opposition):
    In some countries such as Argentina and Chile there is not a process of registration as such in which the Copyright Office grants or rejects the application, so the user may file a deposit of the work without a formal and substantive examination of the application. In the rest of the analyzed countries there is a registration procedure in which the term for granting the application is usually not more than 2 months, with the only exception of U.S.A. where registration may take 8 months when the applicant has not used the fast track procedure, event in which the registration may be made in 2 weeks with the payment of an additional official fee. The countries in which the registration procedure takes faster are Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Cuba, El Salvador, Guatemala, Panama and Venezuela.

In the majority of countries there is not a publication of the application, with the only exceptions of Paraguay, Uruguay, and Costa Rica where third parties may file oppositions after 30 days from publication date . In some countries such as Costa Rica, publication is only requested for edited works and Brazil, where publication is only required for certain type of works.

2. Judicial power delegated to Copyright Offices

Colombia, Ecuador and Peru are the only Copyright Offices in which civil copyright litigation may be started before the Copyright Office with judicial attributions. These attributions have the advantage of specialized judges in Copyright law in comparison to other countries in which copyright cases may be decided by judges that are not familiar to this field. However, it is important to underline that there are some countries that have specialized courts, such as Mexico. Moreover, this occurs with countries in which there are public prosecutors specialized in copyright issues such as Paraguay, Colombia, Honduras and Venezuela. The panorama is different regarding conciliation as an alternative dispute resolution, in many of the studied countries such as Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Bolivia, Colombia, and Costa Rica parties may start conciliations before the Copyright Office. Another particularity concerning litigation and registration of works occurs in Argentina, Honduras, and United States where registration of works is requested for filing a copyright infringement actions. In the event of the United States this requirement is only needed in domestic works and it is only requested for foreign works where the right owner pretends to claim damages and attorney’s fees as compensation. In Argentina and Honduras it is requested for every type of work.

3. The Role with Collective Societies

There is not a unified scheme concerning the role of the Copyright Offices in relation to Collective Societies. In some countries such as Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, México, Paraguay, Perú, Dominican Republic, and Ecuador, the Copyright Offices may inspect Collective Societies and verify if the royalties are well and fairly distributed among its associates. In case of seeing inconsistencies in relation to royalty’s distributions, Copyright Offices in these countries may sanction Collective societies with fines and suspensions and may even take control on the decisions of the board of directors as it has happened in Colombia. By contrast, in other countries such as Argentina, Honduras, Uruguay, United States, Chile, and Cuba the Copyright Office does not have any function in relation to audit, inspect, or sanction a Collective Society. However, this does not mean that these types of societies are completely uncontrolled in these countries as there are entities different from the Copyright Office that may inspect the work of collective societies. These differences create an interesting debate regarding the control of collective societies as despite Copyright Offices are in theory the public entities that are experts in the copyright field, there may be other entities that may conduct a better inspection on the distribution of royalties by collective societies.

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