How to Obtain Web Site Copyright Protection
Copyright Registration for Online Works
Related Article: Benefits of Web Site Copyright Registration
Table of Contents
This circular gives information about copyright registration of online works made available over a communications network such as the Internet. This information applies also to works accessed via network (World Wide Web sites and homepages, FTP sites, Gopher sites) and files and documents transmitted and/or downloaded via network.
Copyright protects original authorship fixed in tangible form. 17 U.S.C. sec. 102(a). For works transmitted online, the copyrightable authorship may consist of text, artwork, music, audiovisual material (including any sounds), sound recordings, etc. Copyright does NOT protect ideas, procedures, systems, or methods of operation. 17 U.S.C. sec. 102(b).
Under U.S. law, copyright protection subsists from the time the work is fixed. Copyright registration is not mandatory, but it has important benefits. For general information about copyright, request Circular 1, Copyright Basics. See For Further Information on how to obtain circulars and other information.
For all online works other than computer programs and databases, the registration will extend only to the copyrightable content of the work as received in the Copyright Office and identified as the subject of the claim. The application for registration should exclude any material that has been previously registered or published or that is in the public domain. For published works, the registration should be limited to the content of the work asserted to be published on the date given on the application.
Many works transmitted online are revised or updated frequently. For individual works, however, there is no blanket registration available to cover revisions published on multiple dates. A revised version for each daily revision may be registered separately, provided the revisions constitute copyrightable authorship. A separate application and $30 filing fee would be required for each separately published update. See the section that follows on filing fee information.
In some cases, a frequently updated online work may constitute an automated database. A group of updates, published or unpublished, to a database, covering up to a 3-month period within the same calendar year, may be combined in a single registration. For more information about registering databases, request Circular 65, "Copyright Registration for Automated Databases." All updates from a 3-month period may be registered with a single application and $30 filing fee.
Group registration (a single registration covering multiple issues published on different dates) is available for serials (published weekly or less often) and daily newsletters (published more often than weekly), including those published online. The requirements vary, depending on the type of work. For more information about registering serials, request Circular 62, "Copyright Registration for Serials on Form SE"; for daily newsletters, request Circular 62a, "Group Registration of Daily Newspapers and Newsletters." For group registration of serials and daily newspapers and newsletters, the filing fee is $10 per issue with a minimum fee of $30.
To register a work transmitted online, send the following three items together in the same envelope or package to:
Detailed information on each of these is given below.
Use the form that corresponds to the type of authorship being registered, for example:
If the work contains more than one type of authorship, use the form that corresponds to the predominant material.
The various classes (TX, PA, VA, SR) are for administrative purposes only. A work may be registered on any form. Exceptions: A sound recording (sounds that do not accompany a series of images) must be registered on Form SR. Form SE/GROUP may be used only for group registration of serials. For more information, see Circular 56, Copyright for Sound Recordings.
In general, complete the form as explained in the instructions and in applicable Copyright Office circulars. Information specific to online works is given in more detail below.
Space 2: How to describe the Nature of Authorship
In Space 2 of the application, give a brief statement describing the original authorship being registered. Use terms that clearly refer to copyrightable authorship. Examples are "text," "music," "artwork," "photographs," "audiovisual material" (including any sounds), "sound recording" (if the sounds do not accompany a series of images), and "computer program."
Do NOT give statements that refer to elements that may not be protected by copyright, that may be ambiguous, or that do not clearly reflect copyrightable authorship. For example, do NOT use the terms "user interface," "format," "layout," "design," "lettering," "concept," or "game play."
Space 3: Determining if your work is published or unpublished
The definition of "publication" in the U.S. copyright law does not specifically address online transmission. As has been the long-standing practice, the Copyright Office asks the applicant, who knows the facts surrounding distribution of copies of a work, to determine whether the work is published or not.
In the current copyright law, "publication" is defined as "... the distribution of copies or phonorecords of a work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending. The offering to distribute copies or phonorecords to a group of persons for purposes of further distribution, public performance, or public display, constitutes publication. A public performance or display of a work does not of itself constitute publication." 17 U.S.C. sec. 101.
If you determine that your work is published, give the complete date and nation of first publication in Space 3b of the application. For a revised version, the publication date should be the date the revised version was first published, not the date the original version first appeared online. For registration purposes, give a single nation of first publication, which may be the nation from which the work is uploaded.
If you determine that your work is unpublished, leave Space 3b blank. Do NOT write "Internet," "homepage," or any other term in this space.
All works transmitted online excluding computer programs, databases, and works fixed in CD-ROM format:
The deposit regulations of the Copyright Office do not specifically address works transmitted online. Until the regulations are amended, and under the authority granted the Copyright Office by 37 C.F.R. 202.20(c)(2)(viii), the Office will require the deposit of one of the following:
Exception: If a work is published both online and by the distribution of physical copies in any format, the requirement of the deposit regulations for the copies applies, not the options for online works given above. For example, if a work is published in the form of hardbound books and is also transmitted online, the deposit requirement is two copies of the hardbound book.
Computer programs, databases, and works fixed in CD-ROM format transmitted online:
For computer programs, databases, and works fixed in CD-ROM format, the specific provisions of Copyright Office deposit regulations apply to works transmitted online. 37 C.F.R. 202.20(c)(vii) and 202.20(c)(xix). For further information, request Circular 61, "Copyright Registration for Computer Programs," or Circular 65, "Copyright Registration for Automated Databases." For works fixed in CD-ROM format, a complete copy of the CD-ROM package, including any operating software or instruction manual, is required.
Information via the Internet: Frequently requested circulars, announcements, regulations, other related materials, and all copyright application forms are available via the Internet. Access these from the Copyright Office homepage at www.loc.gov/copyright.
Information by Fax: Circulars and other information (but not application forms) are available from Fax-on-Demand at (202) 707-2600.
Information by telephone: If you have specific questions about registering a work transmitted online and want to speak with a copyright examiner, please call the Literary Section of the Examining Division at (202) 707-8250. For general information about copyright, call the Public Information Office at (202) 707-3000. The TTY number is (202) 707-6737. Information specialists are on duty in the Public Information Office from 8:30 a. m. to 5:00 p. m., eastern time, Monday through Friday, except federal holidays. Recorded information is available 24 hours a day. Or, if you know which application forms and circulars you want, request them from the Forms and Publications Hotline at (202) 707-9100 24 hours a day. Leave a recorded message.
Information by regular mail: Write to:
For more about how to obtain information online and via fax, request SL-10, "Get It Quick Over the Net."
Library of Congress
101 Independence Avenue, S. E.
Washington, D.C. 20559-6000
REV: June 1999
This electronic version has been altered slightly from the original printed text for presentation on the World Wide Web. For a copy of the original circular, consult the PDF version or write to Copyright Office, 101 Independence Avenue S.E., Washington, D.C. 20559-6000.
The above article is the United States Copyright Office's Circular 66 and was reprinted from the United States Copyright Office web site on April 12, 2001.
Protect Your Valuable Investment in Your Web Site
Do not be pennywise and pound foolish. You spent a lot of money to create our web site, so treat it like the valuable intellectual property that it is. Protect your investment in your web site by obtaining a web site copyright registration from the U.S. Copyright Office. The relatively small cost of obtaining the copyright registration, could save you a lot of time, money and headaches in the future if you another web site copies your copyrighted work from your web site.
This page was last modified on February 20, 2008.
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