Third edition of USA copyright office compendium – Works describing and documents generated by computer program

Diagrams, Models, Outlines, Pseudocode, and Other Types of Works That Illustrate or Describe a Computer Program

Diagrams, models, outlines, pseudocode, or other types of works that illustrate or describe the structure or order of operation for a computer program may be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office, provided that they contain a sufficient amount of original authorship. However, such illustrations or descriptions may not be claimed as computer programs.

The Literary Division may accept a claim in “text” if the work contains a sufficient amount of written expression, or a claim in “artwork,” “photograph(s),” “technical drawing,” or “graphic work” if the work contains a sufficient amount of pictorial or graphic expression. When asserting a claim in these types of works, the applicant should provide the name of the author who created the work and the name of the claimant who owns the copyright in that work.

As a general rule, these types of works do not contain “statements or instructions” that may be used “directly or indirectly in a computer in order to bring about a certain result,” nor do they contain any executable program code. In some cases, they may represent nothing more than an “idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery.” Therefore, if an applicant attempts to register a diagram, model, outline, or other type of work as a computer program, the registration specialist may communicate with the applicant or may refuse to register the claim.

Spreadsheets, Reports, and Other Documents Generated by a Computer Program

Spreadsheets, reports, or other documents generated by a computer program may be registered (draft) with the U.S. Copyright Office if they contain a sufficient amount of original authorship. When asserting a claim in this type of work, the applicant should limit the claim to the copyrightable material that appears in the deposit copy(ies), the applicant should provide the name of the author who created that material, and the name of the claimant who owns the copyright in that material. The Literary Division may accept a claim in “text” if the deposit copy(ies) contain a sufficient amount of written expression, or a claim in “artwork” if the deposit copy(ies) contain a sufficient amount of pictorial or graphic expression.

A claim in “text” or “artwork” covers the copyrightable expression that appears in the deposit copy(ies), but it does not cover the computer program that may be used to perform calculations or other functions within a spreadsheet, report, or other document. While these types of documents may contain statements or instructions that may be used directly or indirectly in a computer in order to bring about a certain result, in most cases the code that performs those functions was created by the author of the authoring tool, rather than the author of the document itself. Therefore, if an applicant attempts to register a spreadsheet, report, or other document as a computer program but fails to submit an appropriate selection of source code, the registration specialist may communicate with the applicant or may refuse to register the claim.

A spreadsheet, report, or other document may be registered as a compilation if the author exercised a sufficient amount of creativity in selecting, coordinating, and/or arranging the information that appears within the deposit copy(ies). When asserting a claim in a compilation, the applicant should provide the name of the author who created the selection, coordination, and/ or arrangement that the applicant intends to register.