Third edition of USA copyright office compendium – Documentation for a Computer Program and Apps

User Manuals and Other Documentation for a Computer Program

User manuals, instructional booklets, flowcharts, and other documentation that explain the development or operation of a computer program may be registered (draft) with the U.S. Copyright Office, provided that they contain a sufficient amount of original authorship.

If text is the predominant form of authorship, the work may be registered as a nondramatic literary work. If the predominant form of authorship consists of artwork, illustrations, or photographs, the work may be registered as a work of the visual arts. If the predominant form of authorship consists of audiovisual material, the work may be registered as a work of the performing arts.

If the claimant owns the copyright in the program and the user manual or other documentation for that program, and if the claimant physically bundled these items together and distributed them to the public as a single, integrated unit (such as a shrink-wrapped box containing a disk and booklet), it may be possible to register them together with one application and one filing fee. By contrast, if the program and the documentation are distributed online, if they are distributed separately from each other, or if they are owned by different claimants, each element is considered a separate work and a separate application for each element is required.

When asserting a claim in a user manual or other documentation, the claim should be limited to the new material that appears in the work, 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 work contains a sufficient amount of written expression, or a claim in “artwork” and/or “photograph(s)” if the work contains a sufficient amount of pictorial or graphic expression.

Apps

An “app” is a computer program that is used directly or indirectly in a computer or handheld electronic device. An app may be registered if it contains a sufficient amount of original authorship in the form of statements or instructions that bring about a certain result in the computer or device.

When asserting a claim in an app, the applicant should provide the name of the author who created the work. Specifically, the applicant should provide the name(s) of the person(s) or organization(s) who created the source code for the specific version of the app that the applicant intends to register. In addition, the applicant should provide the name of the claimant who owns the copyright in that version. “Computer program” is the most appropriate term for registering a claim in an app.

If the applicant registers the app as a computer program and submits identifying portions of the source code for that program, the registration will cover any copyrightable screen displays generated by that work, provided that the app and the screen displays are owned by the same claimant. If the applicant expressly asserts a claim in the text, artwork, or screen displays generated by an app, the applicant must submit a representative sampling of those screen displays together with the identifying portions of the source code.