Your Name in Print

An excerpt from a note I sent to the U.S. Copyright Office, via the “contact us” page on their Web site, in June:

I registered a short-story collection […] with the U.S. Copyright Office a year and a half ago. […] I am writing you today because a few of times in the past year I have received unsolicited mail from vanity presses (a.k.a. “subsidy publishers”). For example, I received a package from a company called Vantage Press, Inc., based in New York City, this past month; before that, I received at least two letters and a postcard from the Dorrance Publishing Company of Pittsburgh, PA.

Given that the letters from these companies seem to be based on the very specific assumption that I am a writer with an unpublished manuscript on my hands, I am guessing that they must have somehow managed to get my name and address from the U.S. Copyright Office.

Am I guessing correctly? Is it indeed possible for junk mailers to “harvest” the names and addresses of individual copyright claimants from your records? If so, is it possible to stop this from happening—i.e., to somehow tag an individual copyright record as non-harvest-able, as it were?

(I forgot to mention in my note that I’ve also received e-mail solicitations from these same companies, with subject headings like “Request to Review Your Manuscript” and “Offer to Publish Your Manuscript.”)

An excerpt from the enlightening reply I received from Page Miller, Copyright Specialist at the U.S. Copyright Office (reproduced here with permission):

Your guess is correct. The Copyright Office is an office of public record and records of copyright registrations are available for public inspection. There are several companies in the area who send employees to our office to go through the applications for the most recently issued copyright certificates. They create mailing lists by recording the names and addresses off of the applications and sell them, in turn, to these types of vanity presses. They do not have access to the works that were deposited for registration; these are stored at an off-site facility that is not open to the public. Because the copyright law requires the Copyright Office to make all of its records available to the public, we have no control over what members of the public retrieve from our records or how they use the information. The only time that we have ever been able to take action against any of these presses is when one of them started sending out letters saying that their “researchers” had “come across” authors’ manuscripts, thereby implying that the Office was making the manuscripts available.

Just, you know, FYI, in case you, like me, have registered your own work, or are planning to do so; look out for the creepy junk mail that is sure to follow.

In the Wig Business

Every writer in the country can write a beautiful sentence, or a hundred. What I am interested in is the ugly sentence that is also somehow beautiful. I agree that this is a highly specialized enterprise, akin to the manufacture of merkins, say—but it’s what I do. Probably I have missed the point of the literature business entirely.

—Donald Barthelme, “On ‘Paraguay,'” Not-Knowing: The Essays and Interviews (Kim Herzinger, ed.)