The Devil is in the details
Copyright registration systems already exist (at least in the US, with the US Copyright Office, and in the UK, with UK Copyright Service). In fact, if you are an author intending to publish your work for profit in one of these countries, you would be a fool not to register your book with the respective Copyright Office. The reason is simple: without the copyright registration, it is virtually impossible for you to pursue various legal claims in case your copyright has been infringed.
So if your book attract a significant attention outside of your own country, and a foreign publisher wants to publish your book, yes, you’d better register in that country if that country has a registration system to protect you better in case you have to fight legal claims in that country. But then, if you are that famous, you wouldn’t be fuming about $1950 a year or whatever, since your foreign publishers would probably take care of that anyway.
So, for professional authors, registration requirement is nothing new—they are already registering, (in the US, a one-time fee of $45; in the UK, annual fee of approximately £8—less, if you register for 10 years). What my proposal aims to do is to weed out abandoned “properties,” known as orphan books, from the active “properties.” Active properties of course do not have to be making money, and certainly if you think your book is one day going to be a big hit, you can keep it active by paying the annual registration fee to protect all of your copyright. But in order to identify all orphan books, everyone who has a copyright claim has to register first. If we don’t, Google would make a persuasive case for an alternative—a sort of Bush Doctrine for books.
It is probable that an aspiring author does not have $1950 or a similar sum for various international registrations, but a book would have its country of origin indicated inside, so a registration in that country should suffice to protect all aspects of copyright. If your country does not have a registration system then you should register with the US Copyright Office just in case—on the account of the US copyright law’s all-encompassing claims of jurisdiction over almost any book of any national origin. Yes, it’s the old USA again.
At any rate, a single instance of registration should be made to suffice, which can then be verified via the Internet. Additionally, various countries’ copyright offices can be networked via the Internet so that a single query at one of the offices should give the needed information. This was not possible at the time the last international copyright treaty was enacted, and probably the reason the treaty did not call for a worldwide registration system.
As to objecting to paying any fee at all, surely, if you an aspiring author, each of your book is worth at least $10 or £8 a year worth of continuous investment? Sure, your book might not be discovered for the next half a century, but that only comes to $500 (£400) in registration fees, and surely you intend to make that much in a week when your book is finally discovered, I presume? Besides, being able to tell anyone that your books are officially registered might just give you that heady feeling you need to keep your fledgling literary career going.
Suppose if you own a property and you didn’t pay the annual property tax, would you be asking the fairness question when the taxman cometh and sell you property? Or if you own an internet domain name and you forgot to renew the registration and someone else claimed it, would you? If you own a property, it is your responsibility to make sure it stays in your hand, especially if you intend to make money off it.
As for, making distinction between for-profit and non-profit, it is relatively simple: first the digitized files of orphan books are uploaded to a national repository, say the Library of Congress in the US, or the British Library in the UK (perhaps by tens of thousands of local library volunteers). Then the files are first made available for all public and school libraries free of charge. So if you have a library card, you have the free access to those books online.
Additionally, those national repositories would authorize such well-known non-profit free online libraries as Project Gutenberg, the IPL, Bartleby, and Internet Archive to add orphan books to their online collections. As to the non-profit designation, it’s decided by their taxation status. This should allow people without a library affiliation to access those books free of charge—thus giving not only the people in the US or UK the benefit, but also everyone else in the world that has internet access.
For more on this: http://asolutiontoorphanbooks.blogspot.com/