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Protecting Software: Keeping Trade Secrets while Registering Copyrights

Many software companies rely on a combination of copyright and trade secret protection for their products. There is a potential problem, however: The requirement to submit source code with a copyright registration is somewhat at odds with the confidentiality requirements of a trade secret.

Fortunately, the U.S Copyright Office offers some flexibility in its deposit requirements for software containing trade secrets. The applicant may deposit any of the following:

  1. First 25 and last 25 pages of source code with portions containing trade secrets blocked out; or
  2. First 10 and last 10 pages of source code alone, with no blocked out portions; or
  3. First 25 and last 25 pages of object code plus any 10 or more consecutive pages of source code, with no blocked-out portions; or
  4. For programs 50 pages or less in length, entire source code with trade secret portions blocked out.

Finally, an applicant who is unwilling or unable to deposit source code may deposit object code, though the software will be registered under the rule of doubt – meaning that the Copyright Office has not determined the existence of copyrightable authorship, so the value of the registration may be compromised.

These issues are addressed in greater detail in Copyright Office Circular 61.

Dana H. Shultz, Attorney at Law  +1 510 547-0545  dana [at] danashultz [dot] com
This blog does not provide legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you need legal advice, please contact a lawyer directly.

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