The FOIA : An Overview and Reference Handbook

FOIA Frequently Asked Questions (FOIA FAQ's)

Based on the principle that an informed public is essential to the democratic process, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which can be found at section 552 of Title 5 of the United States Code (U.S.C.), requires federal agencies to make agency records available to the public either proactively or in response to a request, subject to certain conditions and exceptions. The FOIA includes nine exemptions and three exclusions that permit an agency to withhold a record in part or in full in limited circumstances. The federal FOIA does not provide a right of access to records held by Congress, the courts, state or local government agencies, or by private businesses or individuals. The Privacy Act, which can be found at 5 U.S.C. § 552a, contains similar provisions with respect to records relating to an individual requester. The Copyright Office is subject to the FOIA and the Privacy Act, and sets forth its regulations governing requests made pursuant to these Acts at 37 Code of Federal Regulations (C.F.R.), part 203 (FOIA) and part 204 (Privacy Act).

Types of Records the Copyright Office Maintains

One of the Copyright Office’s primary functions is to record authors’ and other claimants’ claims to copyright in original works of authorship. The Copyright Office maintains records of these registrations as well as materials deposited with applications for registration (e.g., a copy of the work), records relating to the application process (e.g., correspondence between the Copyright Office and the applicant regarding the application or deposit); recorded documents (e.g., copyright assignments), records relating to the statutory licensing of copyrighted works (e.g., statements of account), and other records regarding the Office’s general operations. Not all of these types of records exist for each registered work, and the Copyright Office maintains some records only for a limited time. The Office also creates and maintains numerous information circulars, which explain selected provisions of copyright law and procedures. Circular 1a more fully explains the various roles and functions the Copyright Office serves.

Records the Copyright Office Makes Available Without Having to File a FOIA Request

Copyright Registration Records

The Copyright Office makes a vast quantity of records publicly available without requiring an individual to file a FOIA request. Although many FOIA requests to the Copyright Office demand access to records relating to copyright registrations, these records are already available for public inspection, in accordance with sections 705 and 706 of Title 17, United States Code (U.S.C.) and section 201.2 of Title 37, Code of Federal Regulations (C.F.R.), and most records may be copied for a fee. The Copyright Office will not make copies of registered deposit material, however, unless authorized by the copyright claimant or for other specified reasons related to litigation activity, which requires the use of a prescribed original form available from the Certifications and Documents Section. Requests for inspection, copying or certification of registration records should be directed to the Certifications and Documents Section, U.S. Copyright Office, 101 Independence Avenue, SE, Washington, DC 20559-6000; Tel: (202) 707-6787; Fax: (202) 252-3519; Email: The Office’s information circulars 4, 6, and 22 provide further detail about gaining access to and/or copies of this information and the charges that may be assessed.

If you need to locate information about a registration, rather than viewing the actual registration itself, you may Search Copyright Registrations and Documents for free by using the Copyright Office’s website or by visiting our Washington, D.C., facility in person. Alternatively, you may request the Copyright Office to perform a search for you for a fee by contacting the Reference and Bibliography Section, U.S. Copyright Office, 101 Independence Avenue, SE, Washington, DC 20559-6000; Tel: (202) 707-6850; Fax: (202) 252-3485; Email:

Statutory Licensing Records

The Licensing Division of the Copyright Office maintains records of transactions related to the statutory licensing of secondary transmissions of copyrighted works on cable television systems and by satellite carriers for private home viewing, the making and distributing of phonorecords, the use of certain works in connection with noncommercial broadcasting, the public performance of sound recordings via digital audio transmissions, and the public performance of copyrighted music on jukeboxes from 1978 to 1989. These records are open to public inspection and searching from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday except federal holidays. Inquiries should be directed to the Licensing Division, U.S. Copyright Office, 101 Independence Avenue, SE, Washington, DC 20557-6400; Tel: (202) 707-8150; Email: Further information regarding the Licensing Division is available in information circular 75.

Other Records

The Office also makes many other records available for free on its website, including: information circulars and factsheets, applications and other forms, the text of the Copyright Act, the Office’s regulations located in 37 C.F.R. Part 2, the Office’s Federal Register notices, current copyright legislation, reports and studies, Congressional testimony, and frequently asked questions (FAQ).

Alternatively, you may request printed copies of such forms, information circulars and certain other Copyright Office publications by calling the Copyright Office’s Forms Hotline at (202) 707-9100. Follow the recorded instructions for leaving a message including the name or description of the publication you are requesting and the address to which the publication is to be mailed.

A bound copy of the 1976 Copyright Act, as amended, may be obtained
by requesting [circular 92)] from the U.S. Government Bookstore.

Other Information

The Public Information Office (PIO) is available by phone and email to answer questions from members of the public for free regarding the Copyright Office’s procedures and the copyright law in general. PIO cannot, however, provide specific legal advice. You may contact PIO by phone at (202) 707-3000, 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday except federal holidays. You may also send an email inquiry from the contact us link of the Copyright Office web site or

Should I Submit a FOIA Request to the Copyright Office for Records That Are Maintained by the Library of Congress?

No. Although the Copyright Office is a service unit of the Library of Congress, these two entities function separately with respect to the FOIA. The Copyright Office is subject to the FOIA and the Privacy Act because the Copyright Act itself so provides. This provision does not, however, apply to the Library of Congress, which has developed its own procedures for responding to requests for information and access to its records. Requests for records maintained by the Library of Congress should be directed to: Chief, Office Systems Services (OSS), Library of Congress, 101 Independence Avenue, S.E., Washington, DC 20540-9440.

How to Make a FOIA Request to the Copyright Office

The Copyright Office’s FOIA Requester Service Center is responsible for processing all initial requests submitted pursuant to the FOIA or the Privacy Act. All initial requests must be in writing and sent by mail to:

FOIA Requester Service Center
Copyright Office
P.O. Box 70400
Washington, DC 20024

To facilitate a prompt response, the request should be clearly marked “Freedom of Information Act Request.” Moreover, records requested should be well-described, meaning that the description should enable the Office to identify the records requested by any process that is not unreasonably burdensome or disruptive to Office operations. The Office may contact the requester to attempt to narrow or further define the nature and scope of the request. A requester is advised to provide a daytime telephone number, fax number, and/or email address in case the FOIA Requester Service Center needs additional information in order to process the request. The Office will search for potentially responsive records created prior to the date that the Office begins its search.

If a request is denied, the notification will include the basis for the denial. Appeals may be made in writing to the General Counsel, United States Copyright Office, at the address listed above. Appeals must be made within 30 calendar days of the date of the Office's denial.

How to Obtain Information about the Status of Your FOIA Request

The FOIA Requester Service Center is the first place that a FOIA requester should contact to seek information concerning the status of that person’s FOIA request and appropriate information about the Copyright Office’s FOIA response. The Center can be reached at (202) 707-6800. FOIA requesters can subsequently raise any concerns about the service they received from the Center to the FOIA public liaison. The liaison can be reached at (202) 707-0600.

Designated Officers under Executive Order 13392

Chief FOIA Officer: Tanya M. Sandros, Acting General Counsel
FOIA Public Liaison: Peter M. Vankevich, Supervisory Copyright Information Specialist

List of Records

The Privacy Act of 1974 requires that the Copyright Office maintain a list of the systems of records it keeps, together with descriptions of the records kept in those systems and methods the public may use to access information in the systems. The most up-to-date version of the systems of records was published in September 1998 and amended in October 1999. This updated list reflects changes, additions, and deletions of records maintained by the Office since the last publication of systems of records, which occurred in August 1993. See the complete list of Copyright Office System of Records.

U.S. Copyright Office Freedom of Information Act Reports

Annual Reports—Fiscal Year: 

2007 | 2006 | 2005 | 20042003 | 2002 | 2001 | 2000 | 1999 | 1998

Report Implementing Presidential Executive Order 13392: Improving Agency Disclosure of Information

Updated Status Report on Deficiencies Under E.O. 13,392 (August 1, 2008)