Copyright Compendium

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Chapter 2400

721.10 (A) Relationship Between Source Code and Screen Displays

 

721.10 (A) Relationship Between Source Code and Screen Displays

 

As a general rule, a computer program and the screen displays generated by that program are considered the same work, because the program code contains fixed expression that produces the screen displays. If the copyright in the source code and the screen displays are owned by the same claimant, the program and any related screen displays may be registered with the same application. The U.S. Copyright Office will not knowingly issue a separate registration for a computer program and the screen displays that may be generated by that program. Nor will the Office issue a supplementary registration that purports to add a claim in screen displays to a basic registration for a computer program.

 

By contrast, if the copyright in the code and the screen displays are owned by different parties, separate applications will be required. The computer program should be registered as a literary work, while the screen displays should be registered as an audiovisual work, a pictorial work, or a graphic work, as appropriate.

 

If the applicant states “computer program” in the Author Created/New Material Included fields or in spaces 2 and 6 (B), the registration will cover the copyrightable expression in the program code and any copyrightable screen displays that may be generated by that code, even if the applicant did not mention the screen displays and even if the deposit copy(ies) do not contain any screen displays. By contrast, if an applicant states “screen displays” in the application, the registration will not cover the computer program unless the applicant also asserts a claim in the “computer program” and submits an appropriate deposit. See Registration Decision: Registration and Deposit of Computer Screen Displays, (August, 1987).

 

This rule does not apply to the hypertext markup language (“HTML”) for a website, because HTML is not a computer program or source code. If the applicant submits an application to register HTML, the registration may cover the HTML itself, but it does not cover any of the content that may appear on the website unless the applicant submits a copy of the website content and expressly asserts a claim in that material. For a discussion of HTML, see Chapter 100, Section 1006.1 (A).