As a general rule, a computer program and the screen displays generated by that program are considered the same work, because the program code contains fixed expression that produces the screen displays. If the copyright in the source code and the screen displays are owned by the same claimant, the program and any related screen displays may be registered with the same application.
The U.S. Copyright Office will not knowingly issue a separate registration for a computer program and the screen displays that may be generated by that program. Nor will the Office issue a supplementary registration that purports to add a claim in screen displays to a basic registration for a computer program. By contrast, if the copyright in the code and the screen displays are owned by different parties, separate applications will be required. The computer program should be registered as a literary work, while the screen displays should be registered as an audiovisual work, a pictorial work, or a graphic work, as appropriate.
This rule does not apply to the hypertext markup language (“HTML”) for a website, because HTML is not a computer program or source code. If the applicant submits an application to register HTML, the registration may cover the HTML itself, but it does not cover any of the content that may appear on the website unless the applicant submits a copy of the website content and expressly asserts a claim in that material.
When asserting a claim in screen displays, the claim should be limited to the new material that appears in the screen displays, the applicant should provide the name of the author who created that material, and the applicant should provide the name of the claimant who owns the copyright in that material. The Literary Division may accept a claim in “text” if the screen displays contain a sufficient amount of textual expression that is not a part of the code, or a claim in “artwork” and/or “photograph(s)” if the screen displays contain a sufficient amount of artwork or photos that are not generated by the computer program.
A registration for a computer program covers the copyrightable expression that appears in any screen that may be generated by the program, even if the applicant does not submit identifying material depicting the screen displays or merely submits a representative sampling of those displays. If the screen displays as a whole do not contain copyrightable authorship, the registration specialist may communicate with the applicant or may refuse registration. For example, if the claim is based solely on the layout or format of a screen or if the deposit copy(ies) consist solely of blank forms, de minimis menu screens, or other elements that are purely functional, registration will be refused.
Computer Programs That Generate Typeface, Typefont, or Barcodes
Typeface and mere variations of typographic ornamentation or lettering are not copyrightable. A computer program that generates bar codes or a particular typeface, typefont, or letterform may be registered if the program contains a sufficient amount of original authorship in the form of statements or instructions to a computer.
“Computer program” is the most appropriate term for registering a claim in this type of work. The U.S. Copyright Office (draft) will not accept an application that asserts a claim in the “entire work,” “entire computer program,” “entire text,” or the like, because these statements suggest that the applicant may be asserting a claim in both the copyrightable and uncopyrightable elements of the program.
To register a computer program that generates typeface, typefont, letterform, or barcodes, the applicant must submit a portion of the source code for that program. If the applicant merely submits a representation of the characters generated by the program without providing any code, the registration specialist will communicate with the applicant.