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Software Copyright Law FAQs

Considering the time, effort, expertise, and innovation called on to create and maintain software, it is no wonder that an area of law has emerged to specifically protect copyright of software. The frequently askd questions below outline key questions regarding software copyright law. For more information, visit FindLaw's Intellectual Property section.

How do I protect the software I've created?

While there is little explicit software copyright law at the federal level, federal copyright law provides protections for software authors, so long as they register their software copyrights. This registration is very straightforward and costs range from $35-$55 for one piece of software.

How do I register my software copyright?

Software copyright law does not require you to hire an attorney to publish your copyright registration, although it maybe be a good idea to consult with one before filing. You can fill out an application that asks for

  • the title of the work,
  • the name of the author,
  • the date of the creation of the work, and
  • the name of the copyright owner.

Send this application, the application fee, and one or two copies of your copyrighted software to the United States Copyright Office.

Should I register my software no matter what?

Not necessarily. If you are only publishing your software for personal use, and it has no value to anyone else, you do not need to register the copyright. It's still a good idea to copyright it, in case someone else publishes something similar and tries to sue you for infringement. Usually, if you're work is valuable enough for you to publish it, then it is important enough to register.

If I register my software, can I sue infringers?

Yes. Because you have registered, your work is automatically copyrighted when you fix it to a tangible medium. Thus, you own the copyright, and nobody is permitted to copy, display, duplicate, or change your work without your permission.

However, the minute someone infringes on your copyright, you lose this automatic protection. You must file a federal lawsuit in order to stop the infringement and convince the judge to award you compensation for any loss you suffered. You can only file this lawsuit if you have registered your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office.

Although registration is easy, it can take a little bit of time to be processed. This is why it is important to register immediately, and not to wait until someone infringes on your software. In the case of an infringement, you would want to register immediately, and it is very expensive to expedite copyright registration. So, register your software right away.

What kinds of damages could I get if I sue copyright infringers?

As long as you register your software before the infringement, or within three months of the publishing of your work, you may be able to recover damages. In addition to ordering the infringer to seize and being compensated for your losses, you can ask the court for

  • attorney fees,
  • court fees, and
  • special damages up to $150,000 per infringement -- without even establishing what actual damages you suffered.

It can be hard to show the specific damages suffered, so the ability to collect special damages is very useful. Federal lawsuits tend to be very expensive; so, the ability to collect attorney and court fees is also very helpful.

Hire an Attorney to Help with Software Copyrights

Be sure to consult an intellectual property attorney to help you weigh the costs with any lawsuits and potential awards. Registering your copyright immediately can help keep you from litigation, because an infringer who knows that you can easily recover special damages will be more willing to settle out of court -- saving you a lot of cost.

Next Steps
Contact a qualified business attorney to help you identify
how to best protect your business' intellectual property.
(e.g., Chicago, IL or 60611)

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