Best Edition and Copyright Law

Copyright registration allows for recording of a creative work by depositing the work with the copyright office. By depositing the work, the artist preserves the work for future generations as part of our Public Domain. In exchange for depositing the work, the copyright office issues a registration certificate.

Under copyright law, copies or phonorecords deposited in the Copyright Office must be the “best edition” of the work. The best edition of the work is the edition that the Library of Congress determines is the most suitable for its purposes.

When two or more editions of the same version of a work have been published, the one of the highest quality is generally considered to be the best edition. In judging quality, the Library of Congress adheres to specific criteria in all but exceptional circumstances. Where differences between editions represent variations in copyrightable content, each edition is a separate version and “best edition” standards based on such differences do not apply. Each such version is a separate work for the purposes of the copyright law. In deciding between two editions, a criterion-by-criterion comparison should be made. The edition that first fails to satisfy a criterion is to be considered of inferior quality and will not be an acceptable deposit.

Under regulations of the Copyright Office, potential depositors may request authorization to deposit copies or phonorecords of other than the best edition of a specific work by requesting “special relief” from the deposit requirements. All requests for special relief should be in writing and should state the reason or reasons why the applicant cannot send the required deposit and what the applicant wishes to submit instead of the required deposit.

The definition of “best edition” of a work in the law makes clear that the Library of Congress is entitled to receive the copies or phonorecords of the edition that best suit its needs. Its choice may be made from any editions that have been published in the United States before the date of deposit.

When two or more editions of the same version of a work have been published before the date of deposit, the Library of Congress generally considers the one of the highest quality to be the best edition. If, on the date of deposit, a better edition exists but is not submitted, the Copyright Office is entitled to request the better edition on behalf of the Library of Congress. The Library of Congress lists criteria to follow in judging quality in its current “best edition” statement. When the criteria do not apply to a particular work, the Copyright Office will confer with appropriate officials of the Library of Congress to obtain a determination as to the best edition of that work.

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