Stake Your Claim with Copyright

Though all written works, including websites and computer programs, are automatically protected by copyright, authors should still register their works for increased protection. Benefits of registering include:

1. Registration provides an established public record of the copyright claim.

2. Registered copyright holders are prepared to file suit for infringement (registration is a prerequisite before a case can be filed).

3. If made within 5 years of publication, registration provides “prima facie” (i.e. legal presumption of) evidence of the validity of the copyright as stated in the certificate.

4. If made within 3 months after publication or prior to infringement, registered copyright holders can be awarded statutory damages and attorney’s fees. Otherwise, copyright holders receive only actual damages.

5. Copyright holders can register with U.S. Customs for protection against importation of infringing copies.

The biggest of these for a small business is the award for damages. Nobody wants to go to court and I certainly do not write this as an encouragement to go to court against infringers. But if a copyright holder does have a case and has previously registered their copyright, he or she can recover the attorney fees and also additional punitive damages.

If the copyright is not registered, the copyright holder has a more difficult time pursuing infringers, can recover only the actual damages, and may find it worthwhile to pay legal fees to protect their hard work.

Register When the Work Is Complete and at Any Major Change

When a copyright holder launches a new website, computer program or white-paper, he or she can submit their work. Websites and computer programs are by their nature subject to change. Instead of re-registering with every small change, a copyright holder can probably re-register only during major releases (e.g. when a programmer would jump from version 1.x to 2.x, but not from 1.1 to 1.2).

Submit Digital Copies of All Screens and Printed Representative Samples

To register a copyright, copyright holders submit a filing fee, a completed registration form, and for computer programs and websites both a digital copy of the entire work and a smaller printed, representative sample (5 pages) of the work. The printed samples should include the title, author, and copyright notice.

Tips

For a web pages, I found the easiest way was to save the webpage as a .pdf (print to .pdf on Macs) and then annotate the .pdf with this information.

Remember that when printing from a web browser, .css formatting will not be picked up unless the media property of the css is set to “print” or “all” (e.g. media=”all”).

Note: Synap Software registered only the visible screens of LeadsOnRails.com and other works. Both the product website and the product screens themselves were submitted. I see no need to register the computer code itself. Synap Software’s computer code is locked away, inaccessible except by criminal action. If registered, it becomes a matter of public record and then could be copied (even though it would infringe on the copyright). Why even make it available? More important, I believe, is the work that went into the rendered HTML code and product documentation that would be easily copied by anyone.

The Actionable Point

Register websites, programs, whitepapers and any other company or personal asset to protect hard work, make it easier to enforce copyright, and increase damages paid if someone infringes.

Notes

[1] The author of this entry is not a lawyer and Synap Software is not in the business of offering legal advice. This entry is meant only to share experiences. Consult your legal advisor for details and specific advice.

[2] This overview is for US registrants only.

[3] Consult your attorney and see Copyright Registration for details.

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