Compendium of U.S. Copyright Practices, 3rd Edition

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1008.3 (F) Determining the Publication Status of a Work Made Available Only Online


1008.3 (F) Determining the Publication Status of a Work Made Available Only Online


The applicant – not the U.S. Copyright Office – must determine whether a particular work is published or unpublished. This determination should be based on the facts that exist at the time the application is filed with the Office. As a general rule, the Office will accept the applicant’s representation that website content is published or unpublished, unless that statement is implausible or is contradicted by information provided elsewhere in the registration materials or in the Office’s records or by information that is known to the registration specialist.


In making this determination, the applicant may wish to consider the following general guidelines:


• Streamed-only content: Streaming is a performance, which may not constitute a distribution of copies if the user does not receive a copy.


• Express authorization to download content: If a work is expressly made available for download the work is deemed published, because a distribution occurs each time a user downloads a copy, such as when MP3s of a sound recording are offered for sale on a website or where a copy of software or a videogame can be obtained by clicking on a “download now” button or similar link.


• Downloading or reproduction expressly prohibited: If a work is posted and displayed on a website and if there is a notice on the webpage, in the terms of service for the site, or in another obvious place stating that the work and/or all content on the site may not be downloaded, printed, or copied (or other statement to that effect), that work(s) may be deemed unpublished, because any copies that may be downloaded, printed, or otherwise distributed to the user have not been authorized by the copyright owner.


• Work posted without the authority of the copyright owner: The fact that a work was posted on a website without authorization from the copyright owner has no impact on whether the work is published or unpublished (even if the work may be downloaded or printed from the site), because the copyright owner did not authorize the work’s availability on the website in the first instance.


• Implied license: If a work is posted on a website and there is no evident statement in the terms of service for the site, on the webpage where the work is displayed, or elsewhere stating that the work may be downloaded, copied, forwarded, and/or printed it may be unclear whether the copyright owner authorized the distribution of that work. If downloading, reproducing, or retransmitting is facilitated in some manner by the website, there may or may not be an implied license to distribute the work, in which case the work may or may not be considered published.


• Work made available in electronic and hard copy format. If the same work is posted online and distributed in tangible copies, such as CDs, DVDs, or in printed formats, the work will be deemed published, even if it has not been published online.


For complete certainty, authors or copyright owners may register website content as an unpublished work before it is distributed or placed online. Likewise, if a website has not been posted online yet and if all of the content contained in the site has never been distributed, the website may be registered as an unpublished work. A registration for an unpublished work secures the statutory benefits for a work, such as the availability of statutory damages and attorney’s fees for infringements that occur after the effective date of the registration for that work (regardless of whether the work is subsequently published).


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