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725 Spreadsheets, Reports, and Other Documents Generated by a Computer Program

725 Spreadsheets, Reports, and Other Documents Generated by a Computer Program


Spreadsheets, reports, or other documents generated by a computer program may be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office if they contain a sufficient amount of original authorship. When asserting a claim in this type of work, the applicant should limit the claim to the copyrightable material that appears in the deposit copy(ies), the applicant should provide the name of the author who created that material, and the name of the claimant who owns the copyright in that material. The Literary Division may accept a claim in “text” if the deposit copy(ies) contain a sufficient amount of written expression, or a claim in “artwork” if the deposit copy(ies) contain a sufficient amount of pictorial or graphic expression.


A computer program that may be used to generate spreadsheets or to perform calculations or other functions within a spreadsheet, report, or other document may be registered, provided that the applicant expressly asserts a claim in the “computer program” and submits an appropriate selection of source code. When completing an online application, this information should be provided in the Author Created field, and if applicable, also in the New Material Included field. When completing a paper application on Form TX, this information should be provided in space 2, and also in space 6 (B) if applicable. For guidance on completing these portions of the application, see Sections 721.9 (F) and 721.9 (G).


A claim in “text” or “artwork” covers the copyrightable expression that appears in the deposit copy(ies), but it does not cover the computer program that may be used to perform calculations or other functions within a spreadsheet, report, or other document. While these types of documents may contain statements or instructions that may be used directly or indirectly in a computer in order to bring about a certain result, in most cases the code that performs those functions was created by the author of the authoring tool, rather than the author of the document itself. Therefore, if an applicant attempts to register a spreadsheet, report, or other document as a computer program but fails to submit an appropriate selection of source code, the registration specialist may communicate with the applicant or may refuse to register the claim.


A spreadsheet, report, or other document may be registered as a compilation if the author exercised a sufficient amount of creativity in selecting, coordinating, and/or arranging the information that appears within the deposit copy(ies). When asserting a claim in a compilation, the applicant should provide the name of the author who created the selection, coordination, and/or arrangement that the applicant intends to register, and the applicant should assert a claim to copyright in that material by using the procedure described in Chapter 600, Section 618.6.


As discussed in Section 710, a registration for a compilation covers the author’s selection, coordination, and/or arrangement of information, but it does not cover any of the information that appears in the deposit copy(ies). See 17 U.S.C. § 103 (B). It does not cover the authoring tool that was used to create the work, nor does it cover any “idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery” that is reflected or implemented in the work. 17 U.S.C. § 102 (B). In some cases, it may be unclear whether the applicant intends to register a spreadsheet, report, or other document as a compilation or simply intends to register the information that appears in the document itself. The fact that the deposit copy(ies) contain fictitious data may indicate that the applicant is asserting a claim in selection, coordination, and/or arrangement authorship, rather than a claim in any copyrightable material in the deposit copy(ies). By contrast, if the deposit copy(ies) contain data that has been entered by an actual user, it may be unclear whether the applicant is asserting a claim in a compilation or a claim in any copyrightable text or artwork that may appear in the deposit.


In all cases, the authorship that the applicant intends to register should be clearly identified in the application, and the claim to copyright in that authorship should be clearly stated. Examples of unclear terms that will prompt the registration specialist to annotate the application or to communicate with the applicant include “template” and “data.”


Examples:


• The Office receives an application to register a report titled 2013 Annual Report of Tanley Corporation. In the Author Created field the applicant asserts a claim in “text,” “artwork,” and “coordination and arrangement of financial data.” The registration specialist will register the claim. The application is clearly limited to the text, artwork, and compilation that appears in the report itself, but does not extend to the authoring tool used to create that report.


• The Concordia Company submits an application to register a spreadsheet that contains various graphs and tables of information. In the Author Created and New Material Included fields the applicant asserts a claim in “text.” The applicant excludes the authoring tool from the application by checking the box for “computer program” in the Material Excluded field. The registration specialist will register the claim.


• Olympian Human Resources submits an application to register a report containing dozens of columns and rows. In the Author Created field the applicant asserts a claim in “text.” In the Note to Copyright Office field, the applicant explains that the report was “created using Microsoft Access.” The registration specialist may add this information to the Material Excluded field and register the claim with an annotation, such as: “Regarding material excluded: Information added from Note to Copyright Office.”


• AutoCrat LLC submits an application to register a spreadsheet that contains graphs, tables of information, explanatory text, as well as various formulas, such as “SUM (b12, c12, d12)/d13.” In the Author Created and New Material Included fields the applicant asserts a claim in “text.” In the Material Excluded/Other field the applicant explains that the spreadsheet “uses Excel 5.2.” The registration specialist will conclude that AutoCrat created the spreadsheet using Excel 5.2 as an authoring tool. The claim will be registered.


• DentalSoft submits an application for a work titled PatientCare. In the Author Created field the applicant asserts a claim in “Report and data to help dentists manage their practices.” The deposit is a spreadsheet that appears to contain fictitious data; no source code has been submitted. The registration specialist will communicate with the applicant. It is unclear whether the applicant intends to register a computer program that generates these types of reports or intends to register the selection, coordination, and/or arrangement of data that is reflected in the deposit.

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