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I have a question regarding best practices when it comes to code copyright.

The company I'm working for would like to register their code in the US Copyright Office. However, they first published their website a year ago and this is a more recent version of the code.

I've done research but I can't find a lot about what the best practices are - is it better to copyright only the more recent version of the software? Or to create a separate claim for the first published version, and file another one for this recent one?

I understand that you don't have to register your code with the US Copyright Office for it to be copyrighted, but this is something that the company would like to do.

Any help is appreciated

Thank you

3 Answers 3

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Copyright is automatic: when you write something original, it is thereby copyrighted. Thus there is no act of "copyrighting". The only important act is registering. All versions of a work are covered by copyright protection. When you revise a work, the existing copyright still exists, and you have created a derivative work.

If copyright is held by a known person, the expiration date is author's death + 70 years. In a work made for hire (the company owns the copyright), it is the earlier of is 95 years from first publication or the shorter of 120 years from creation. A revision does not generally affect the duration of copyright: however, if a joint work is created, the copyright on the underlying work expires relative to the death of the original author and the copyright on later parts created by a second (added) author is relative to the second author's death. So if A writes ch. 1-4 of a book, then adds ch. 5-8 subsequently with a new co-author B, duration of copyright for ch. 5-8 is determined relative to the death of B. None of that matters for a company web page.

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  • In theory, your registered copy would need to include some portion that becomes the subject of a future infringement claim, either as a copy or as a derivative work. For instance, if the second version is much smaller than the first, you run the risk that the defense shows the "registration" is invalid for the claimed relief. Also, registering a website can be very complicated (multi-media, multiple authors, etc).
    – Upnorth
    Sep 6, 2017 at 5:35
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You would have to look at cost vs. effect. Your GreatSoftware version 1.7.13 is likely 99% or more identical to version 1.7.12, so if I copy one, I copy 99% of the other. It won't make much difference in a judgment, but registering a copyright costs money.

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As the answer by user6726 says, copyright is automatic when an original work is "fixed in a tangible form (such as a computer file). This is now true in all countries that adhere to the Berne Copyright Convention, or the WTO's TRIPS Agreement. That included all but a very few countries in the world.

Under US law, the copyright must be registered before one can start a suit for copyright infringement. Statutory damages are not available under US law unless the work is registered before the infringement occurs, or else within three months of the publication of the work.

If an earlier version of a work is registered, a later version will usually be a derivative work of the earlier version, and so the registration of the earlier version will suffice if the later version is infringed. However, a defendant could argue that the later version is not a derivative work, and so the earlier registration is not valid for the later version.

The greatest possible protection is obtained by registering each separate version as a separate work, But there is a fee for each registration, and there is time and effort expended in preparing the registration submission, and in tracking the registrations of each version. How much money, time and effort to expend on registrations of different versions is a business decision, not a legal issue. Some holders will register every version, some only those versions where significant changes are introduced, and some only one early version.

A new version will not extend the duration of copyright on an earlier version.

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