Copyright Basics

A copyright protects the tangible expression of ideas, but not ideas themselves. A copyright will not protect any process, system, concept, principle or discovery (which generally are the subject of patents). For example, a copyright will protect the expression of a computer program as embodied in its operational software and/or on a website. It will not, however, protect the utility or functionality of the software.

Federal copyright protection exists the moment a work of authorship (such as a book, article, magazine, brochure, lyrics, musical recording, audiovisual work, architectural design, two and three dimensional artwork, photograph, software, etc.) is created. However, no lawsuit for copyright infringement may be brought until a published or unpublished work is registered by the U. S. Copyright Office. For published works, statutory damages and attorneys fees cannot be recovered in a copyright infringement action unless the work is federally registered within three months from the date of its first publication. And, for infringement of either published or unpublished works, the owner of the copyright is entitled to injunctive relief and may recover damages in the form of actual damages (i.e., the copyright owner’s lost profits, if any) and the infringer’s net profits that are attributable to the infringing activity.

The current governmental filing fee for a copyright application is $45.00 and a copy of the work must be submitted with the application.

Generally, when seeking to register a copyright for a work, a deposit of the work must be submitted to the U.S. Copyright Office along with the copyright application. For computer software, databases and similar works fixed in other than a CD-ROM format (e.g., floppy disks or server hard drives), the deposit consists of one copy of the first and last 25 pages of the source code if reproduced on paper. If the program is 50 pages or less, the required deposit will be the entire source code. If the program contains trade secret material, the foregoing deposit rules apply allowing, however, for “blocking out” of those portions of the source code containing trade secrets, provided that the blocked-out portions are proportionately less than the remaining material. For registration of copyright in a website, a single registration is recommended for all elements published together on the same website on the same date and owned by the same copyright claimant.

For works fixed in a CD-ROM format, the deposit consists of one complete copy of the entire CD-ROM package, including a complete copy of any accompanying operating software and instructional manual, and a printed version of the work embodied in the CD-ROM.

Where the copyright application includes a specific claim in related computer screen displays (as many applications do), the deposit shall additionally consist of visual reproductions of the screen displays in the form of printouts, photographs, or drawings no smaller than 3″x3″ and no larger than 9″x12″. Under these circumstances, we would suggest that you submit at least one printout of each “significant” screen display, e.g., for websites—the home page and any major linked pages within the site, and any page which displays a unique representative feature of the program.

We also suggest that you begin placing a copyright notice on the software and any associated website (preferably at the bottom of at least the home page) so as to inform the world of the copyrighted status of the work. Notice consists of three elements: (1) the symbol (the letter “C” in a circle or the word “Copyright”), (2) the year of first publication, and (3) the name of the copyright owner. We also suggest that you add the sentence “All rights reserved.” immediately after the copyright notice.

Moreover, as your website evolves, the content of the site may change in content and/or “look and feel.” If that is the case, we recommend filing a new copyright application for each significantly changed version of the site.

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