How is software like a novel? Software is copyrightable, for one thing. In fact, like words written on a page, software likewise gives rise to a copyright as soon as it is fixed to a tangible medium. Therefore, if you or your business are creating software, here are some things to consider.
Ownership and assignment
Have you hired somebody to develop software? Make sure your developer has executed a written agreement that clearly states who owns the software once it is built. If the owner is anyone but you, you’ll need a license. That’s a different topic, addressed elsewhere. Let’s assume you and your developer agree that you are going to own all work product.
In that case, make sure that your developer executes a written agreement that is very clear on the subject of ownership, and that obligates the developer to assign any and all work product to you before you pay a dime or a line of code is written. And make sure the developer is obligated to turn over all source code. Then follow through and make sure you get the source code — and that you can compile and run it. Just in case your developer decides to retire to the Caribbean.
Registering a software copyright is relatively easy and inexpensive. While the existence of a copyright is not dependent on registration, you obtain a number of important benefits by registering your work. Plus it’s something you can do without your lawyer making a lot of money, so why not do it?
The United States Copyright Office provides a lot of useful information online, including instructions and forms for registering your work. (Software, by the way, is a literary work.) Circular 61, “Copyright Registration for Computer Programs” may be particularly helpful, although you may wish to browse all of the circulars that the Copyright Office Provides.