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Third edition of USA copyright office compendium – the scope of a registration for a work of original authorship

As a general rule, a registration for a work of authorship covers the entire copyrightable content of the authorship that (i) is claimed in the application, (ii) is owned by the claimant, and (iii) is contained in the deposit copy(ies).

The applicant should assert a claim in this authorship in the online application by completing the Author Created field, and if appropriate, the New Material Included field. In the paper application, the applicant should assert a claim in this authorship by completing the Nature of Authorship space, and if appropriate, the Material Added to This Work space.

Together, these fields and spaces provide important information about the scope of the claim of authorship in a work. Applicants are encouraged to be specific when completing these portions of the application. A clear description of the copyrightable expression that the applicant intends to register creates an accurate record of authorship and ownership for the benefit of the copyright owner, the courts, and the general public.

The fact that a work was submitted for registration and was registered by the U.S. Copyright Office does not necessarily mean that the registration covers all the authorship that appears in the work as a whole. The Office examines and registers only the copyrightable authorship that is expressly claimed in the application and that is included in the deposit copy(ies). The Office does not examine any authorship that is not claimed or any authorship that has been disclaimed in the application, and the Office cannot examine any authorship that does not appear in the deposit copy(ies).

If the applicant expressly asserts a claim in uncopyrightable material, the registration specialist may communicate with the applicant. In the alternative, the specialist may remove the uncopyrightable term from the application and register the claim with an annotation indicating that the registration does not cover that material. The annotation is intended to put the copyright owner, the courts, and the general public on notice concerning the extent of the claim. That said, a registration does not extend to uncopyrightable material that appears in a work of authorship, even if the registration does not contain an annotation or even if it contains ambiguous language that may refer to uncopyrightable material.

A registration (draft) only covers the specific version of the work that is submitted for registration. The U.S. Copyright Office does not offer so-called “blanket registrations” that cover prior versions or derivative versions of the same work. For example, a registration for a comic book that depicts or describes a particular character covers the expression set forth in that issue, but it does not cover the character per se or any other issue or other work that features the same character.