REGISTERING COPYRIGHTS IN COMPUTER PROGRAMS
Copyright protection in most countries of the world is obtained without a formal registration process. The very act of composing a piece of music, painting a picture, writing a novel or coding a computer program creates the copyright. There is generally no need to file a copy of the work. On the other hand, proving that a work has been previously created can be difficult and for this reason some countries have a procedure to register copyrights.
In the United States this registration is a requirement if the owner of the copyright wishes to obtain “statutory” damages for past infringement of the copyright. These statutory damages are set out in the US Copyright Act and range from USD 200 for an innocent infringement to USD 150,000 for wilful infringement. This is much simpler than attempting to determine the actual damages and/or any “additional profit” made by the infringer of the copyright.
This registration is carried out at the US Copyright Office. It is comparatively inexpensive and demonstrates that the copyright owner created the work at the latest on a particular date.
Companies outside of the United States can also take advantage of the registration for their own computer programmes and manuals. This can be advantageous when licensing the software and seeking investment funds from the United States.
The requirements for registration are fairly simple and are set out in the attached checklist.
Checklist for Registration of Computer Software
1. Name of Copyright Holder This is generally the company employing the software programmers. Contractors should have a clause in their contracts to assign ownership and the exclusive rights tot he software code to the company. It is also possible that the ownership of the computer is assigned to another company in a group of companies.
2. Year of First Distribution We need to know the year and country in which the computer programme was first distributed publicly. This could also be a beta version. We should register both the first version as well as the latest updated version of the programme.
3. Public domain / open source software If the computer programme contains substantial amounts of software that is in the public domain or supplied as open source software, then these need to be identified and declared to the patent office.
4. Libraries Any libraries, subroutines, etc. that are also distributed with the final version of the computer program also need to be identified and, if possible, their ownership clarified.
5. Copies of the source code (script) The first and last twenty-five pages of the source code or script as well as the copyright notice must be filed with the Copyright Office. The requirements for filing an updated version of the computer programme are slightly different. In this case, the first and last 25 pages of the computer programme should be submitted if a large number of revisions are made throughout the text. If, on the other hand, changes are only made to a portion of the program, then fifty pages representative of this changed portion should be supplied. The copies need to be filed as pages of readable PDF file using US letter format.
6. Trade Secrets The deposited source code will be searchable on the web. It is possible to black out parts of the source code that contain any trade secrets. However, the reacted parts of the code should not be substantial – otherwise the copyright office will reject the registration. It is possible to submit different pages if either the first or last 25 pages contain substantial numbers of trade secrets.
7. Manuals Any manuals, in printed or electronic form, should be deposited at the same time as
the registration of the software.