Key Points About Software Copyrights
First, a copyright exists at the moment of creation. In other words,
a work does not need to be published to have a copyright. The copyright
does not need to be registered with the U.S. Copyright office. It
is simply a right given to the person who created the work. The
advantage of registering a copyright with the government is that
you then have an official document proving your ownership, making
it easier to win in court against someone who attempts to use your
creation without your permission. Registration can be done any time
after the work is created, but is required in order to initiate
litigation. Winning a copyright infringement case in court, when
the copyright is registered before the infringement took place or
within 3 months of the publication of the work, can entitle you
to get back your attorney fees as well as "statutory damages,"
which essentially constitute financial punishment that is not based
on the amount of money lost by the author due to the infringement.
This is done to encourage people to register their copyrights and
to deter people from stealing them.
As the owner of a copyright, you have the right to reproduce the
work, enhance the work, distribute the work, and perform it or display
it in public.
With software, the copyright gives protection to the source code
and the binary code generated from the source code. In order to
register a copyright, it is normally necessary to file a copy of
the intellectual property being protected with the US Copyright
Office as proof. Since most software contains valuable trade secrets
(which we discuss in a later section) that would lose their value
if presented to the public, the copyright office allows software
source code to be submitted with major sections "redacted"
or left out. In fact, only the first 25 and last 25 printed pages
of source code need to be submitted, though there are no guidelines
as to what constitutes "first" and "last" in
something consisting of many independent files and a complex interconnect
Note that a copyright notice is not required in the code, except
for registering the copyright.