Software code can be registered as a literary work with the copyright office. In fact, copyright registration often affords the best legal protection for your software program. That’s because copyright registration not only ensures that no one may copy, distribute, or display the software without your permission, but also allows you to pursue legal action against infringers. In some cases, software copyright registration is a relatively easy process. In fact, if your application is filed online, the source code may be uploaded electronically in PDF format. Otherwise, you will need to print out the code and submit it with your paper application.  I don’t recommend that you file paperwork with the copyright office.  They have made statement to the effect that it will be years before they look at any paper filed copyright applications.  Use electronic filing (its cheaper too).

Here  are a few additional considerations-

1.  Software Programs Without Trade Secrets:

You are required to submit one copy identifying portions of the program (generally the first 25 and
last 25 pages of source code), together with the page containing the copyright notice (you should have a copyright notice placed in the header and footer of ALL your code). For a program less than 50 pages in length, applicants should send the entire source code.

2.  Software Programs With Trade Secrets:

If the software program contains trade secrets, you must include a cover letter stating that the claim contains trade secrets, along with the page containing the copyright notice (see above).  You  must also submit one of the following:

• First 25 and last 25 pages of source code with portions containing trade secrets blocked out,

• First 10 and last 10 pages of source code alone, with no blocked out portions,

• First 25 and last 25 pages of object code plus any 10 or more consecutive pages of source code, with no blocked- out portions, or

• For programs 50 pages or less in length, entire source code with trade secret portions blocked out.

Special Concerns for Web-Based Software:

If the software is available, online, you must submit identifying material for the screen displays in addition to the required source code.  The identifying material for the screen displays should be images or printouts clearly showing the screens. If using online registration, images of the screens may be uploaded electronically to the Copyright Office.

Revised Software Programs (ie. Version 2.0 of your software):

Each separately published version of a software program that contains new, copyrightable authorship must be registered separately, with a new application and fee. Registration of the first version may extend to the entire work if it contains no previously published or registered portions. Registration of any subsequent version covers only the new or revised material added to that version.

In many cases, it is advisable to consult with an experienced copyright attorney before seeking to register your software program to ensure your rights are protected.  Please contact me to schedule your free 30-minute consultation by email at nvantreeck@usip.com or call TOLL FREE at 1-855-UR IDEAS (1-855-874-3327) and ask for Norman.

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