Is copyright registration the elephant in the room?

I’m at a seminar on how technology impacts IP rights, and the way they work in business.

When people talk about copyright, I see a lot of instances where copyright becomes more and more dependent upon registration.

Examples are the proposals to set up exchange fora (like a marketplace) for stuff that’s under copyright. Basically, it’s like an online shop for content or software, and you can easily buy a license. But in order to work, you need to register the copyrightable matter on the exchange system.

But also other developments go towards registration of copyrighted material. The creative barcode is nothing more than a registration system, in order to try to enforce copyright.

The same is true for the Open Source initiative Software Package Data Exchange, that allows you to check whether something is covered by an Open Source license.

For more and more instances of enjoying copyright, the practical step to take is to register, because it’s the only way you will be able to protect your copyright, or to ensure that people know that you own something.

But registration of copyright is a bit of a taboo – it has been decided long time ago that we should never, ever register copyright, and that copyright should apply automatically, as from the moment of creation.

I’m not certain what the rationale behind this principle is – I’m sure there must have been very good reasons at the time (we’re talking end of 19th century here).

But it seems to me that at a time when technology allows to register pretty much anything, at effectively zero cost, it could be a good idea to switch to registration, not just to provide proof of copyright, but to also allow enforcement.

Of course, there will be practical problems. What happens when two people (businesses) claim copyright on the same thing? But those problems can be solved, if necessary through easy (and cheap) online dispute resolution. If we have software that can do verifications of millions of lines of code to see if there’s Open Source in it, then surely we can devise software that can check whether anything that can be protected by copyright, has been registered before by someone else.

This would also allow us to recognize when something is an orphan work (i.e. technically under copyright, but not claimed by anyone), and allow proper use of such works.

It will also allow us to be much more performant in understanding which content is available under open source or creative commons licenses, so we can ensure much easier enforcement there as well.

But I don’t see any mention of copyright registration in any of theĀ  reviews of IP that have been published recently (by the UK’s Hargreaves report or the EU Commissions IP Review) don’t actually seem to mention it at all.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I think there’s an elephant in the room. It’s called registration of copyright.