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Court Reaffirms: Copyright ALL Versions of Your Software

A ruling last month from the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit reminds firms of the need to register all versions of their software products with the Copyright Office, not just the original source code. Software developer, Airframe Systems, Inc., found this out the hard way.

Airframe has been in the business of developing and licensing software since 1979. When customers upgraded their computer systems, Airframe prudently modified its software to match. The company registered its original software code, but not its updated versions, with the Copyright Office. Airframe discovered that a longtime customer, L-3 Communications Corp. had copied and used its source code without permission. Airframe sued its customer for copyright infringement.

Airframe alleged L-3 copied, almost identically, the latest version of its source code. In the District Court, Airframe was unable to present any evidence of infringement of its registered copyright. While Airframe did demonstrate that the latest, unregistered version of its software was copied, it could not show that the previously registered versions had been copied. Had the updated version of its software been registered with the Copyright Office, the result for Airframe would likely have been different.

The First Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court’s decision. It remarked that copyright owners may only bring suit for infringement of a registered work. Until Airframe registers the latest version of its software, judicial proceedings will prove fruitless.

Please note that, in addition to the copyright registration itself, the timing of registration is important as well. If the unwanted infringement occurs before registration, a copyright holder may be limited to recovering only its actual damages, a sometimes very difficult measure to prove at trial. However, if infringement occurs after registration, a copyright holder may recover statutorily defined damages regardless of the actual damages it can prove. Thus, a copyright registration is a powerful weapon to wield in the event your work is copied without authorization.

The takeaways from this case are simple yet strong. First, register ALL versions of your software with the Copyright Office. Second, submit those registrations as soon as possible. Third, keep archival copies of each version of your software in the event its contents need to be proven.

Following these easy steps can save you considerable time and money! We would be happy to assist you with your copyright needs should they arise. If you have any questions regarding copyright registrations or any other intellectual property matters, please contact us.


Even though the content of the above Greenebaum Doll & McDonald e-bulletin is primarily informative, state and federal law obligates us to inform you that THIS IS AN ADVERTISEMENT. You have received this advisory because you are a client or friend of the firm.

About Greenebaum Doll & McDonald PLLC
Greenebaum Doll & McDonald PLLC is a widely-respected business law firm with approximately 150 professionals in five offices, serving local, national and international clients in virtually every industry. For more information, visit www.greenebaum.com.

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