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Rejecting the conventional story that formalities in copyright law were abolished by the Berne Convention, this Article demonstrates that privately administered systems of formalities play a significant role in the administration of copyright law worldwide. Indeed, they must because copyright is designed to support a transaction structure which requires rightsholders who seek to attract licensing partners to go through some formal step to identify themselves and the works in which they have a legal or beneficial interest. Canvassing the landscape of mandatory and voluntary public and private systems of formalities, this article argues that: (1) national policymakers retain more policy authority under Berne to impose certain formal requirements on rightsholders than those with a formalist understanding of public formalities argue; (2) private systems of formalities are extensive, economically significant, but are not interoperable with each other in many cases and with voluntary registries and other voluntary public formalities systems; and (3) policymakers should use a mix of approaches to improve the functioning of both public and private formalities systems by promoting or requiring transparency, efficiency, and interoperability in their design and administration.


Originally published in the Berkeley Technology Law Journal 28:3 (2013).

© 2013 Michael W. Carroll. This Article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license,