The massive database serves as a foundation of solid information for an issue that has grown to be increasingly controversial online over the last year. Napster and other file-swapping services have increased the tension over the limits of traditional copyright law online, sparking debates that are still playing themselves out in court.
As a simpler replacement to an earlier, outdated search tool, the Copyright Office's new service won't shift any of the power balances between copyright holders and their critics online. But it will serve as a faster way to figure out exactly who owns the copyright of any given work that somebody might wish to download or trade online.
The office has played a quiet role in the debates over online music and other works that have punctuated the digital landscape for the last several years.
It has a central role in determining how much music Webcasters can play on their online radio stations, and in how much the companies have to pay for the rights. This has been a contentious issue for several years and is now in arbitration in front of copyright authorities.
The office also submitted a brief in the Napster trial, disagreeing with that company's argument that people trading songs online without permission weren't violating copyright law.
The new copyright-finding tool covers works that have been registered since 1978. The office said that more than 13 million search terms are included, although this covers considerable duplication of works.