Registering your yearbook's copyright

The copyright office’s instructions on filling in the eCO form are very good and available online. This link also shows up in your home page once you create a login on copyright.gov’s eCO site. Refer to that document, and the prompts in the form itself, for the registration process; this document will attempt to answer questions along the way that might be too cloaked in “legal-ese” for quick resolution.

The goal of this process is to register the yearbook as a compilation work owned by the unincorporated association of editors. A “compilation work” is a copyright registration that protects works brought together into one new work; in the case of a yearbook, the registration protects the book as an assembled work, while the individual contributors own their photographs, articles, etc. An “unincorporated association” is a group of people working together to accomplish a goal. In this case, the current editors of the yearbook in any given year will be the “unincorporated association” that holds the copyrights for all the yearbooks produced thereafter.

A few quick steps up front:

  1. Pick a name for the unincorporated association of yearbook editors. Something simple and memorable will be easiest. There are no points for originality here — if your yearbook was named The Annual, “The Annual Editors” would be fine.
  2. Set up an e-mail address for the unincorporated association. Big picture you might want lots of other things, like a bank account, but at least start with a way people can talk to the organization. The Editor(s) in Chief should have that password; the adviser probably shouldn’t. Each year, the editors should pass access down to the next set of editors.
  3. Decide if you’re registering the book before publication or after publication. If registering before publication, register the work as a literary work; you will need to upload a copy of the yearbook electronically. (The maximum file size is actually set by the speed of the connection you have, because you have to upload each file in one session; click here for details.) If registering after publication, register the work as a single serial issue; you will need to mail two copies of the physical book to the copyright office.
  4. Before filling out the forms, contact the SPLC to ask about laws specific to your state. Each state has its own law covering unincorporated associations. Give us a few days to look up the law in your state and make sure this process is right for you.
  5. Have a credit or debit card you can use to pay for the registration fee. If all else fails, see if you’re allowed to use yearbook funds to purchase a prepaid debit card, but in this day and age, presumably the publication has some way of paying electronically.

In following the Copyright Office’s instructions, here’s some additional information to know:

  1. If registering as a literary work , the series title is the name of the yearbook, and the title of the work is the theme of that particular yearbook. For example, if the yearbook is named The Annual, then the series title is “The Annual” and the serial title is this year’s theme, “Enchantment Under the Sea.”
  2. If registering as a single serial issue , the title of the work is the yearbook name, the publication frequency is “annually,” and the issue date is the year the yearbook is actually distributed.
  3. If registering after publication as a single serial issue, date of first publication is the date that the book was actually delivered into the hands of someone other than a yearbook staff member.
  4. The organization name is the name of that unincorporated association you picked earlier; the name that represents the editorial board.
  5. Under “authors,” don’t fill in the name of any staff members! Names you put here are transferring ownership of the work to the unincorporated association. The contract the SPLC provides doesn’t do that—it only gives the association a license.
  6. For transfer statement, you want the option: By written agreement(s) with individual contributors not named in the application/certificate.
  7. For material excluded, check “text,” “artwork,” and “photographs.” The editors aren’t claiming to own these; they’re just licensing them, so they should be excluded from the claim. For material included, check “editing,” “compilation.”
  8. Under rights and permissions information, put the name of the unincorporated association and the association’s e-mail address; use the street address and phone number of the school’s yearbook office.
  9. For correspondent, list the current editor in chief’s personal information.
  10. Don’t get special handling. It’s expensive and if you haven’t published the book or just published it recently, you probably aren’t in a hurry yet.
  11. If registering as a single serial issue , don’t forget to print out a mailing label.