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721.6 Relationship Between a Computer Program and a Work Created with a Computer or a Computer Program

721.6 Relationship Between a Computer Program and a Work Created with a Computer or a Computer Program


The ownership of the copyright in a work of authorship, or of any of the exclusive rights under a copyright, is distinct from the ownership of any material object in which the work has been fixed. A transfer of ownership of a material object does not convey any rights in the work, nor does the transfer of ownership of a copyright convey property rights in any material object (absent a written agreement to that effect). 17 U.S.C. § 202.


Likewise, ownership of the copyright in a work is distinct from ownership of any material object that may be used to create that work. The fact that the author used a computer to write an article, short story, or other nondramatic literary work does not mean that the work is a computer program. The fact that the author saved his or her work onto a hard drive, flash drive, thumb drive, CD-ROM, or other electronic storage device does not mean that the work is a computer program. A work only qualifies as a computer program if it contains “a set of statements or instructions to be used directly or indirectly in a computer in order to bring about a certain result.” 17 U.S.C. § 101

(definition of “computer program”). Moreover, when a work is created with a computer program, any elements of the work that are generated solely by the program are not registerable, such as formatting codes that are inserted by a word processing program.

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