If you have developed a new software idea, you’ll want to protect it from others who might illegitimately benefit from it. As the software creator, you have automatic rights to its use and to prevent others from its use. However, to repel infringers or piracy, it is best to officially copyright your software by registering the work with the United States Copyright Office (USCO). This registration grants owners and creators the ability to legally enforce their rights if infringement occurs. Registration involves several steps, outlined below. A copyright law attorney can guide creators through the process and ensure that their idea is properly protected.
What Is Software Copyright?
Software copyright protects the original work of programmers and software developers by giving them the right to sue infringers for statutory damages. Software ideas are not copyrightable unless they are in tangible form. The software copyright protects the expression of the software idea – in most cases, the source code. Software copyright lasts throughout a creator’s lifetime until 70 years after their death.
What Are the Steps to Copyright Software?
Copyright registration allows creators to formally register the details of their original work. Should infringement occur, the creator has proof of ownership from an official government source. The copyright process involves four main steps:
1. Determine the Type of Work to Be Registered
Applicants will need to determine the category of work to be registered. There is no predefined category for computer programs on the USCO’s registry. Thus, a work must be deemed a literary work, which is the category typically used by software developers and programmers, or a visual arts or performing arts work. For works that fit into multiple categories, applicants may register them in the most predominant category.
2. Complete a Copyright Application
Creators have two options when applying for software registration with the USCO: applying online or submitting the application in hardcopy. The application captures details like the work being registered, the nature of authorship, the software creator, the year of creation, whether the work was previously registered, and whether it is published. Once submitted, the application becomes a public document.
A separate application, filing fee and a deposit of the work must accompany each creation (and subsequent versions) to be copyrighted. There are some exceptions to this rule, so consult an experienced copyright law attorney to determine the specifics of your situation.
3. Pay the Filing Fee
Each application requires a non-refundable filing fee which is subject to change by the USCO. Online applicants can pay via electronic check, debit, credit cards or the USCO’s deposit account. Applicants submitting hardcopy applications may pay using checks, money orders or via deposit account. Cash payments are only accepted for applications submitted in person.
4. Deposit the Work to Be Copyrighted
Each application must be accompanied by a copy of the work or source code being registered. Online applicants can submit an e-copy of the code via the electronic registration system in PDF format or another format accepted by the USCO. Hard copies may be mailed or delivered in person.
Applicants can submit the source code in entirety or part, subject to several factors, including:
- Whether trade secrets are a part of the code
- Whether the code is derived from a computer program
- Whether the applicant will include related documentation for the software
- Whether the applicant wishes to register software that operates a video game
Applicants may obtain special relief from the deposit requirement in limited circumstances if the source code for the software version being copyrighted is no longer available. Requests must be made in writing and indicate why depositing the version of the software being copyrighted isn’t possible.
Are You Looking for a Copyright Law Attorney?
Copyrighting a software idea can be complicated. Entrust the registration of your software idea to the experienced copyright law attorneys at RM Warner Law. Call us toll-free at 1-866-570-8585 or complete our online form to request a consultation.