Posted by: Daniela Madrid
Copyright protects original works expressed in a tangible medium. Under US Copyright law, the protection applies automatically once the work is fixed onto a tangible form of expression. Thus, the work does not need to be registered with the Copyright Office in order for it to receive copyright protection. However, registering is encouraged in the event litigation was to arise with regard to whom the actual author of the work is. By having the work registered, an author can prove ownership. Also, in order to file suit for copyright infringement, the work at that point would have to be registered with the Copyright Office.
In order to register your work with the Copyright Office, Section 407 of the Copyright Act requires that all works published in the US must adhere to a mandatory deposit requirement. The mandatory deposit requirement protects the Copyright Office’s entitlement to receive copies of every copyrightable work published in the US. Section 407 states that the deposits are to be made “available to the Library of Congress for its collections or for exchange or transfer to any other library.”
But what happens when an author is attempting to register a website or computer program that is crucial to keep secret? In order for that author to register his claim to the copyright, he would have to make known the very source he is intending to protect.
The Copyright Office has addressed this issue by requiring the following deposit for online works containing trade secrets:
- 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 along, 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
- If less than 50 pages, – entire source code with trade secret portions blocked out.
The Copyright Office is conflicted when it comes to this area because it needs to know what exactly an author is claiming ownership to but it also is aware of the need of authors to maintain the secrecy of their work. Although copyright registrations are public records, it is not as free to view as one may imagine. A person wanting to view a copyright record would have to go to the Copyright office, request to look at the document, pay a fee, provide identification, and would only be able to inspect the work at the office with no option of making copies or taking pictures of the materials.
It seems as though the Copyright Office has taken measures to protect the secrecy of online works, however, there are still some risks associated with the deposit requirement. Authors should weigh those risks against the need of registering works for copyright protection.