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Copyright Law Essentials - How The Virtual Card Catalog Works

Posted by Steve Vondran | Aug 11, 2019 | 0 Comments

How The Virtual Card Catalog Works

If you have seen the first Ghostbusters film from 1984 it opens with a poor old librarian minding her own business when index card drawers start opening and shooting the cards out similar to some demonic stereo ejecting CDs in the famous New York Public Library then fades into the iconic Ghostbusters title scene paired with the Ghostbusters song.  Although this blog will not go into great detail on the 80's classic movie it will delve into another, albeit less entertaining, topic of index cards and catalogs. To be more specific I am referring to the United States Copyright Card Catalog, which was recently modernized to create the Virtual Card Catalog also known as the VCC. Throughout this blog I will describe how to access and use the VCC along with detail of the materials available.

What materials are included in the VCC?

            At the time of this blog post one can access over 18 million scans of cards in indexes all in full-color with the registration indexes broken into six distinct categories. The VCC's six categorical indexes are 1870 – 1897, 1898 – 1937, 1938 – 1945, 1946 – 1954, 1955 – 1970, and 1971 – 1977. Although the time frames used in the filing system may seem arbitrary they are not without good reason. Throughout the decades the rules for cataloging copyright registrations have changed in a number of ways so breaking up said decades is understandable. These scans are done using optical character recognition or OCR to allow a clear and easy to read view of these original cards. With that said the metadata for the images is raw and therefore may contain errors, particularly with older cards that were hand-written instead of typed. 

 How to Access and Use the VCC?

            For decades prior to its virtualization for someone to access information such as copyright registrations, assignments, notice of use, commercial prints and labels, title indexes, and pseudonym files that person would have to browse the card catalog in the Copyright Reading Room located in Washington, D.C. This process could be very costly and inefficient in a number of aspects from time directly spent looking through files to the cost of transportation to Washington, D.C. and everything in between.

            Now with the VCC up and running anyone anywhere in the world can access the database. Although first accessible in January of 2018 the online database has gone through a number of upgrades and tweaks to make the browsing easier, more reliable, and adding additional cards to be accessed.

            The VCC is only a proof of concept that is available to the public. This should be kept in the back of one's mind when using the database. Not all of the bugs and glitches have been worked out but as progress continues to be made on the system it will only become more efficient at its job. 

            Finding the VCC online is a fairly easy process, through simple searches on any common search engine such as Google. The direct web address is Once on this webpage one has the ability to find cards from any of the timeframes stated in this article, but before getting to the different steps to finding the information one is searching for there are a few items to be aware of. First is that not all cards are filterable by card text, so manual searching may have to be done for certain time periods or types of indexes. Once past the initial selections and filtering directly through the cards they are arranged in alphabetical order and in cases of multiple cards with the same name they are arranged differently depending on the type of card so further research might have to be done for ease of use.

There are 3 main steps for narrowing the results of a search.

  1. Select Index
    1. This refers to not only selecting the yearly time periods, such as 1971 – 1977, but also the index type to the likes of registration, assignments, and other indexes
      1. Registration
        • This section holds the 6 time periods that have been added to the VCC. Two of which are filterable by card text.
        • The 1898 – 1937 time period is the only card catalog with a drop-down menu for more in-depth. For example “1898 – 1909 Periodicals – Title/Claimant”.
      2. Assignments
        • These are recorded documents for only 4 time periods, none of which are filterable by card text.
        • Titles, Assignee, Assignor, and Assignee/Assignor are the four categories of selection.
  • Other Indexes
    • This dropdown menu contains five alternate index types that only existed during certain time periods.
    • Title Index for Periodicals, Pseudonyms, Commercial Prints and Labels, Notice of Use, Notice of Intention to Use are all five of the selections available.
    • All but one of these options only has one time period available; Notice of Use has four different time periods and search terms. For example “1909 – 1952 Claimant”.
  1. Filter Drawers
    1. Step 2 allows the user to filter down the number of drawers being searched since there are over 25,000 of them. This is done in a two-layer system.
      1. The first layer is to select the first character of the drawer; this is any letter from the English alphabet A-Z.
      2. Character strings are a collection of letters that are common enough to have multiple cards with said strings within a drawer. An example would be “BIG” or “REED”.
    2. Filter by Card Text (Limited)
      1. This is by far the most useful tool for minimizing the number of card images and narrowing the search. It is limited because at this time only two timeframes can be selected to use this feature, conveniently though these two timeframes have a high number of cards in their catalogs.
      2. One can type in and search for a single string (word or phrase) with the normal options or multiple strings with the advanced options.

Once all of one's selections have been made click on the “Save and Filter” button to bring up the search results. Even with using the Filter by Card Text one will likely still have to rummage through cards to find the right one.

Example Use of the VCC

I will be searching for Harper Lee's famous novel To Kill A Mockingbird from 1960.

  • Upon entering the card catalog I will select “1955 – 1970” under Registrations.
  • Then move over to Filter Drawers where I will select “L” since that is the first character of the author's last name, Harper Lee.
  • Once the drawer has been set I will filter the cards by the text “Harper Lee” and check off the box below indicating I want an exact match because I know that is the name I'm looking for and is available.
  • Finally, I click “Save and Filter” where it processes my filters and finds the cards relating to Harper Lee.
  • I have found my card! Card number .0935 in drawer LEE_E-JD holds the copyright registration for To Kill A Mockingbird 1st edition by Harper Lee.


            The Virtual Card Catalog is a great tool for finding copyright a wealth of copyright information without the hassle that is once was with physical searching. Although it can be a bit of a hassle today with its current state, as upgrades to the features are continuously added and its mechanisms are made more efficient and understandable the VCC will become an invaluable instrument for anyone who wants knowledge of past copyrights. Upon leaving this blog post the reader has an understanding of its' abilities paired with the technical know-how to use the catalog and access all that is needed.

Blog Written by Tomas Braly, Texas A&M Graduate. 

About the Author

Steve Vondran

Thank you for viewing our blogs, videos and podcasts. As noted, all information on this website is Attorney Advertising. Decisions to hire an attorney should never be based on advertising alone. Any past results discussed herein do not guarantee or predict any future results. All blogs are written by Steve Vondran, Esq. unless otherwise indicated. Our firm handles a wide variety of intellectual property and entertainment law cases from music and video law, Youtube disputes, DMCA litigation, copyright infringement cases involving software licensing disputes (ex. BSA, SIIA, Siemens, Autodesk, Vero, CNC, VB Conversion and others), torrent internet file-sharing (Strike 3 and Malibu Media), California right of publicity, TV Signal Piracy, and many other types of IP, piracy, technology, and social media disputes. Call us at (877) 276-5084. AZ Bar Lic. #025911 CA. Bar Lic. #232337


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