Third edition of USA copyright office compendium – application tips for computer programs

The application for registration with copyright office must provide the title of the computer program. The title should include the version number or release number (if any) for the specific version of the program that the applicant intends to register.

The applicant should provide the name of the author(s) who created the specific version of the program that the applicant intends to register. Specifically, the applicant should provide the name(s) of the person(s) or organization(s) who created the source code for the version that will be submitted for registration. In addition, the applicant should provide the name of the claimant who owns the copyright in that version.

The applicant should identify the year that the author completed the specific version of the program that the applicant intends to register. As a general rule, the applicant should provide a year of completion only for the specific version of the program that will be submitted for registration. The applicant should not provide a year of completion for the first version of the program or any other version of the program that is not included in the application.

For the purpose of copyright registration, each version of a computer program is considered a separate work. Each version of a program is considered complete when that version has been fixed in a tangible medium of expression for the first time. When a program is prepared over a period of time, the portion that has been fixed at any particular time constitutes the version that has been completed as of that date.

If the year specified in the application does not match the year that is specified in the copyright notice for the program (if any) or if the copyright notice contains multiple dates, the registration specialist may communicate with the applicant if he or she is unable to identify the specific version that the applicant intends to register.

If the version that the applicant intends to register has been published as of the date that the application is filed with the U.S. Copyright Office, the applicant should provide the month, day, and year that the version being registered was published for the first time. As a general rule, the applicant should provide a date of first publication only for the specific version that will be submitted for registration. The applicant should not provide a date of publication for the first version of the program or any other version of the program that is not included in the application.

A computer program is considered published when copies of the program are distributed “to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending” or when copies of the program are offered “to a group of persons for purposes of further distribution, public performance, or public display.” As a general rule (draft), a program is considered published if there has been a general distribution of the program code, regardless of whether the copies are distributed by purchase or license and regardless of whether the copies are distributed on a CD-ROM, DVD, or downloaded online. Likewise, a program is considered published even if the copies contained object code rather than source code and even if the source code has not been disclosed to the public.

The applicant should identify the copyrightable authorship that the applicant intends to register and should assert a claim to copyright in that authorship. The information provided in the application defines the claim that is being registered, rather than the information given in the deposit copy(ies) or elsewhere in the registration materials. “Computer program” is the most appropriate term for registering a claim in this type of work. “Revised computer program” is the most appropriate term for registering a claim in a derivative computer program.

If the claim is unclear, the registration specialist may communicate with the applicant or may refuse registration. For example, if the applicant merely asserts a claim in “text” or a claim in “text” and “computer program,” the specialist will communicate if it is unclear whether the deposit copy(ies) contain text that is distinguishable from source code, object code, or other statements or instructions that may be used directly or indirectly in a computer in order to bring about a certain result. Likewise, the specialist may communicate if the applicant merely asserts a claim in “computer program” that is not discernable as a written language or a programming language.