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Granting Copyright

In 1870, President Ulysses S. Grant signed a law that centralized in the Library of Congress the U.S. copyright registration and deposit system. The law required that two copies of every book, pamphlet, map, print, photograph and piece of music registered for copyright be deposited in the Library. Since the law was enacted, other media, such as films, audio recordings and digital materials, have become eligible for copyright registration.

President Ulysses S. Grant, half-length portrait, seated, facing right [Facsimile of a manuscript] exhibited for the first time at Yale University Library in honor of the 150th birthday celebration of Edgar Allan Poe.

Why is copyright registration so important? Although creators own the copyright to their works at the moment of creation, registering their claims with the U.S. Copyright Office provides a record that can be relied on should a copyright dispute ever arise.

For the Library, the deposit requirement has been its greatest source for building the collections into the largest repository ever assembled. Although the Library acquires materials through purchase, gift and exchange with other institutions, copyright deposits comprise the bulk of the collections.

You can learn more about copyright at the Copyright Office Web site. A good place to start is with the Frequently Asked Questions, which will lead you to the proper forms to use to register your copyright, tell you what copyright protects and provide information on the mandatory deposit requirement. Information is also available in Spanish at

Was there copyright in the United States before 1870?

Yes, but it was administered by the Clerks of the U.S. District Courts. Upon enactment of the 1870 law, all original records of copyright maintained in the 41 states and territories (estimated to cover approximately 150,000 registrations) were turned over to the Library of Congress for safekeeping. These historic volumes are now preserved in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division, along with many accompanying title page deposits. Entries for great literary classics such as "The Raven," The House of the Seven Gables" and "Uncle Tom's Cabin" can be found in these records. A Brief History and Overview of the Copyright Office describes the mission of the office, its services and how it supports the U.S. Congress and the nation.

[President Ulysses S. Grant, half-length portrait, seated, facing right], between 1869 and 1885. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction information: Reproduction No.: LC-USZ62-13018 DLC (b&w film copy neg. of cropped image) LC-BH82601-3703 DLC (b&w film copy neg.); Call No.: Item in PRES FILE - Grant, Ulysses--Photos--Half

B. Edgar Allan Poe, "The Raven." [Facsimile of a manuscript] exhibited for the first time at Yale University Library in honor of the 150th birthday celebration of Edgar Allan Poe. Courtesy of Richard Gimbel. [New Haven? 1949?]. Rare Book and Special Collections Division. Reproduction information: Printed Ephemera Collection; Portfolio 12, Folder 63.