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607 Registration Made Under the Rule of Doubt

607 Registration Made Under the Rule of Doubt


The U.S. Copyright Office has the exclusive authority to issue certificates of registration establishing the prima facie validity of the facts stated in the certificate. 17 U.S.C. § 410 (A), (C). On occasion, the Office may register a claim to copyright, even though the Office has reasonable doubt as to whether the material submitted for registration constitutes copyrightable subject matter or whether the other legal and formal requirements of the statute have been met. This practice is known as the Rule of Doubt.


The Rule of Doubt notifies the claimant, the courts, and the general public that the Office is unwilling to grant a presumption of validity to certain aspects of the claim. As a general rule, the Office will apply the Rule of Doubt only in the following situations.


The Office may register a claim under the Rule of Doubt if the registration specialist is unable to examine the deposit copy(ies) to determine if the work contains copyrightable authorship. For example, the Office will apply the Rule of Doubt if the applicant submits an application to register a computer program with a deposit copy consisting of fifty pages of object code and ten or more consecutive pages of source code. See 37 C.F.R. § 202.20 (C) (2)(vii) (A) (2), (B). Likewise, the Office may apply the Rule of Doubt at its discretion if the applicant submits a redacted deposit copy under a grant of special relief in order to protect trade secret material that appears in the work. (For a discussion of the procedure for requesting special relief or the practices and procedures for registering a computer program with a deposit containing object code, see Chapter 1500, Sections 1508.8 and 1509.1 (F) (4) (B).)


In exceptional cases, the Office may apply the Rule of Doubt if the Office has not taken a position on a legal issue that is directly relevant to whether the work constitutes copyrightable subject matter or whether the other legal and formal requirements of the statute have been met. The Office will not register a claim under the Rule of Doubt simply because there is some uncertainty as to how that issue may be decided by a particular court.


In all cases, the Office will add an annotation to the certificate of registration and the online public record indicating that the work was registered under the Rule of Doubt. The Office also may send a letter to the applicant stating the reasons for its decision and a copy of the letter will be placed in the registration record. Both the certificate of registration and the online public record will indicate that correspondence relating to the claim is in the file.

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