Copyright Registration for Computer Programs and Online Works for a Computer Program

A copyright registration for a computer program can extend to all copyrightable expression embodied in the computer program. Courts have varied opinions regarding whether screen displays may be registered separately. The Copyright Office indicates that a single registration is sufficient to protect the copyright in a computer program and related screen displays, without a separate registration for the screen displays. A specific claim in the screen displays may be asserted on the application. If you choose to specifically claim the screen displays, identifying materials for the screens must be deposited. (See United States Copyright Office Circular 61.)

For a claim for an online work for a computer program that establishes the format of text and graphics on the computer screen when a website is viewed (such as a program written in html), registration will extend to the entire copyrightable content of the computer program code. Registration will not extend to any website content generated by the program that is not present in the identifying material received and that is not described on the application. For all other computer programs that are transmitted or accessed online, the registration extends to the entire copyrightable content of the work even though the entire content is not required in the identifying material deposited. (See United States Copyright Office Circular 66.)

An application for copyright registration for a computer program and an application for an online work for a computer program can be submitted electronically. The deposit requirements for an application for a computer program are the same as the deposit requirements for an online work for a computer program. The deposit requirements vary depending on the individual issue and what is registrable.

Each person should consult United States Copyright Office Circulars 61 and 66 to determine which type of registration and deposit requirements work best for the protection you are seeking. For example, we had a case in which a computer program for an online work contained trade secret material. We were able to submit the application for registration and the deposit requirement electronically for an expedited copyright registration. We submitted the first and last 10 pages of source code with a cover sheet stating that the claim contained trade secrets.

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