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

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512 Multiple Versions of the Same Work


512 Multiple Versions of the Same Work

The Copyright Act states that “a work is ‘created’ when it is fixed in a copy or phonorecord for the first time.” 17 U.S.C. § 101 (definition of “created”). The statute states that “where a work is prepared over a period of time, the portion of [the work] that has been fixed at any particular time constitutes the work as of that time.” Id. It also states that “where the work has been prepared in different versions, each version constitutes a separate work.” Id.


The copyright law protects each version of a work from the moment it is fixed in a copy or phonorecord, provided that the author contributed a sufficient amount of original expression to that version. 17 U.S.C. § 102 (A). For example, copyright protects each draft of a literary work from the moment it is written on paper, saved in a data file, or inscribed in any other medium of expression. Likewise, it protects each take of a motion picture from the moment it is captured on film, videotape, or any other audiovisual medium.


Although the copyright law generally protects each version of a work, it may not be necessary to register each version with the U.S. Copyright Office, depending on whether the work is published or unpublished. These issues are discussed in Sections 512.1 and 512.2 below.


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