Copyright FAQ: Can Software Be Copyrighted?

Yes, software code can be registered as a literary work. 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 most cases, the 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 just need to print out the code and submit it with your paper application. Below are a few additional considerations, as detailed by the U.S. Copyright Office:

Software Programs Without Trade Secrets: Applicants are required to submit one copy of the identifying portions of the program (generally the first 25 and
last 25 pages of source code), together with the page containing the copyright notice, if any. For a program less than 50 pages in length, applicants should send the entire source code.

Software Programs With Trade Secrets: If the software program contains trade secret material, the applicant must include a cover letter stating that the claim contains trade secrets, along with the page containing the copyright notice, if any. The applicant must also submit one of the following:

  • First 25 and last 25 pages of source code with portions containing trade secrets blocked out, or
  • First 10 and last 10 pages of source code alone, with no blocked out portions, or
  • 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, applicants must submit identifying material for the screen displays in addition to the required source code. Identifying material for the screen displays should consist of images or printouts clearly revealing the screens. If using online registration, images of the screens may be uploaded electronically to the Copyright Office.

Revised Software Programs: 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.

How Can I Help?

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, contact me today by phone or email.


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