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

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1103.1 (C) The Works Must Be Physically Bundled in the Unit


1103.1 (C) The Works Must Be Physically Bundled in the Unit


In all cases, the works must be packaged together and distributed to the public in a physical form. Works that are combined and distributed to the public in digital form are not eligible for this option.


The unit of publication option is a narrow accommodation that is intended to address a specific scenario: where multiple works are bundled together in a physical product as a single “unit” and those separate works are first published as a unit. The paradigmatic example is a board game with playing pieces, a game board, and instructions. Each component may be a separate work of authorship: The playing pieces may be sculptural works, the game board may be a pictorial or graphic work, and the instructions may be a literary work. But it would make little sense–and it would be administratively burdensome–to require separate applications for each work. Imposing such a rule would result in duplicative or incomplete deposits. For example, some applicants might send the entire board game with each application, while others might send each element separately. See Compendium of U.S. Copyright Office Practices, 82 Fed. Reg. 45,625, 45,627 (Sept. 29, 2017).


The concerns that prompted the Office to create the unit of publication option are not present in the case of digital products. The problems associated with duplicative deposits are significantly diminished when digital files are uploaded to the electronic registration system. And although it may be relatively easy to determine whether a physical product qualifies as a unit of publication, the same cannot be readily said for digital products, which could be distributed in a single digital file or multiple digital files, or could be published only as a bundle, or both individually and in a bundle. See id.


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