In the USA, a document is subject to copyright when it is "fixed in a tangible medium". What counts as "fixing in a tangible medium" for a digital document? Is it enough to save a copy of the file to a local, private disk, or must said file be made available to another person (e.g. via publication on the internet)?
To make this concrete, let's suppose Alice has a version control repository (such as Git), which is initially private and is later made public. In the USA, at what point does the contents of the repository become subject to copyright? (Assuming that the contents are of a type of material eligible for copyright.)
Consider the following hypothetical timeline:
- 2010: Alice initializes a Git repository. It is initially empty and is stored only on Alice's local computer.
- 2011: Alice creates and adds file A to the repository. (The repository is still private.)
- 2012: Alice creates and adds file B to the repository. (Again private.)
- 2013: Alice makes the repository publicly available.
- 2014: Alice adds file C to the repository (which is now public, so the file is published immediately).
Now, what is the correct copyright year to apply to each file in the repository? (Let's assume the files are not modified after they are added. Let's also suppose that the version control system metadata, including timestamps, is correct and hasn't been altered.)
For file C, the answer is fairly obvious: the file was created, added, and published in 2014, so the copyright date has to be 2014.
For A and B, the answer isn't so obvious. I used to think the answer was 2013, since that was the time at which the files were made publicly available. However, I recently talked to a laywer about the case of a physical document which is later published, and said laywer (though not providing legal advice) said the copyright date would be the time at which that physical document was created, rather than published (since at the time of creation, it is already fixed in a tangible medium, even if it hasn't yet been published). If that is true, the copyright dates for A and B would have to be 2011 and 2012, respectively, since that is when those files are authored and created.