Software Copyright


Software Copyright Essay, Research Paper

Software and copyright

Current copright and patent laws are inapropriate for computer software; their

imposition slows

down software development and reduces competition.

From the first computer as we know them, the ENIAC, computer software has

become more and more

important. From thousands of bytes on miles of paper to millions of bytes on a thin piece

of tin foil

sandwitched between two pieces of plastic, software has played an important part in the

world. Computers

have most likely played an important role in all our lives, from making math easier with

calculators, to

having money on the go with ATM machines. However, with all the help that has been

given to us, we

haven’t done anything for software and the people who write it. Software by nature is


defenseless, as it is more or less simply intellectual property, and not a physical thing,

thus very

easily copied. Copied software does not make money for its creators, and thus they

charge more for whats

not copied, and the whole industry inflates.

There are two categories of intellectual property. The first one is composed of

writing, music,

and films,which are covered by copyright. Inventions and innovations are covered by

patent. These two

categories have covered for years many kinds of work with little or no conflict.

Unfortunately, it is

not that easy when dealing with such a complex matter as computer software. When

something is typed on

a computer, it is considered writting, as it is all written words and numbers. However,

when executed by

the computer, it functions like an invention, performing a specific task as instructed by the


Thus, software falls into both categories (Del Guercio 22-24). It is generally covered

today by

copyright laws, for most mass market software at least. More advanced software or


techniques, however, can be patented, as they are neither obvious nor old. This results

in many problems

which I will go into later.

Copyrights last the lifetime of the author, plus 50 years, and can be renewed.

Patents last only

17 years, but cannot be renewed. With technology advancing so quickly, it is not

necessary to maintain

the protection of the software for the length of the copyright, but also, it is sometimes

necessary to

renew them (Del Guercio 22-24), say, for a 10th sequel in a video game series or

version 47.1 of Bob’s

Graphic Program. With copyrighted material, one is able to write software similiar to

someone else’s, so

long as the programming code is their own, and not borrowed from the others (Del

Guercio 22-24). This

keeps the industry competitive, and thus results in better software (because everyone is

greedy, and they

don’t want to fall behind). With patents no one is allowed to create software that

performs a similar

functions. Take AutoCAD and TrueSpace 2, two 3D modeling programs. TrueSpace 2

would be a violation of

patent laws, as it performs a very close task to AutoCADs, !

which came first. Luckily for us, CAD programs are not new, they have been around for

more than 10

years, and no one thought to patent them.

Thus, you can see the need for change in the system. The current laws regarding

the protection

of intellectual material cannot adequately protect software, they are either too weak or

too strict. We

need a new category of protection. The perfect protection law would most likely last for

10 years,

renewable. This is long enough to protect a program for as long as it is still useful, and

allows for

sequels and new versions just in case. It would also have to allow for others to make

similar software,

keeping the industry competitive, but it would have to not allow copying of portions of

other software

(because you can’t ‘quote’ something from someone elses software like you can with a

book). However,

there are many who dispute this, and I can see their point. Current copyright laws have

and will protect

software effectively, it can be just as protected as other mediums (Cosgrove). This is

true sometimes,

however, to copy a book would take time. You would have to type u!

p each page to make a copy of it, or at least photocopy or scan each page, and it would

most likely take

up much more time than its worth. To copy a computer program however, takes


Changing the law would take time and money, you might be saying. It would be a

tremendous hassle

in Congress to have a new law written just to cover that “Information Superhighway”

thingy. Yes, thats

true too, but to not change the laws will cost more. With the ability to patent new and


software functions comes serious problems. The latest new technology, be it ray-tracing

3D engines,

anti-aliasing software, or a new internet exploring fad can be patented. This would mean

that only one

company and its software could use it. Any other companies that wanted to use the

software would have to

pay them a large sum of money for the rights. Also, since patent hearings are conducted

over a period of

3 years, and in secrecy, company ‘a’ might create a software package and then apply for

a patent, and

company ‘b’ may create better software during that period, and might become quite

sucessful, and then

bam, the patent is given to the company ‘a’, who prompty sues the !

pants off company ‘b’. This stagnates the computer industry; it used to be that company

‘a’ would

retaliate by making better software (Del Guercio 22-24).

For example, Lotus software. They used to make data organization software. Up

until I did this

report, I thought they had gone out of business, because I hadn’t heard about anything

new being done by

them. Well, while I was researching, I found the appalling truth. When patenting of

software became

acceptable in the early 90’s, they closed up their R&D departments and called in a bunch

of lawyers to

get them patents on all their programming techniques (Del Guercio 22-24). Ever since

then, they’ve been

selling out the rights as their primarily (and I’m willing to bet, only) business.

This could even be taken to the extremes of actually patenting simple methods of

handling data,

such as say, mouse support. Now, it can’t happen to mouse support as it is today, but in

the future,

something undoubtably will replace the mouse as the preferred method of input, for

instance, in what may

be a virtual reality future, the glove might be the input device. Anyway, say it did happen

to mouse

support. Every single program that uses mouse support would have to pay a fee for the

rights to do so.

This would result in higher software prices (aren’t they high enough?), and reduced

quality in the

programs, as they have to worry about the legalities more (Del Guercio 22-24).

Needless to say, the

patenting of software is not a widely loved policy, mostly embraced by large

corporations like Lotus and

Microsoft (Tysver “Software Patents”). Smaller companies and most often consumers

are generally against


Even with all the legal problems I’ve mentioned that arise with current laws, thats

not all. The

complexity of software protection laws brings up a large degree of confusion. I myself

thought that

copyrights lasted 7 years until I read this. I asked 15 people in a chat room on the

Internet what they

knew about software protection laws, and only one of them knew that software could be

patented. 12 of

them thought that it cost lots of money for a copyright, which it doesn’t. It’s $20 for a

copyright at

most, and $10000 at most for a patent. 5 of them thought that software copyrights

lasted 7 years (hey,

it’s a popular misconception, I thought so myself at one point). And last but not least, 10

of them

believed that there was no laws regarding the copying of software (there are, but they’re



Now that you know all about the legal and business aspects of software protection,

lets take a

look at how it can affect you. Say you’ve got a web page, and you’ve got a link on your

web page to your

friend Bob’s web page, and he’s got a link on his page to “Joe’S LeeT PiRaCY aND

WaReZ”, and on that

site, there is a link to a pirated copy of AutoCAD. Then Joe gets busted. Joe will

almost certainly be

in trouble, Bob will likely be either questioned or considered responsible, depending on

the blatancy of

the link, and YOU will likely be questioned and your page might be monitored for a time

(Bilodeau). One

such example is my web page. I had a link from my page (the Wierd Wide Web) to

Archaic Ruins, which is a

site regarding information on emulators of old video game systems. When the operator

of Archiac Ruins

got sued by a video game company (I think it was Konami), I too got questioned, and

had my page had ANY

questionable material on it, I would have been sued. Thankf!

ully, I was too lazy to work on the page, as I had planned to put up a page that had

really old

videogames. Who said procrastination was bad?

How can you prosecute someone for a crime that is undefined? Thats a question

many people are

asking. What is a copy of software? Is it a physical clone of the media it came on? Or

is it the

code duplicated to someplace else? If so, where else? Currently, software copying is


considered a copy of the code someplace else… but thats a problem. We all know that

a backup of

software is a copy, but did you know that even running the software creates a copy of

it? Yes, it does.

When you load a program, it goes into your computers memory, and is legally

considered a copy. While the

copy does not stay indefinately, it does stay long enough to perform a certain task, and

can and has been

looked upon as a form of software piracy, as stupid as that sounds. (Tysver “Software


BBS (Bulletin Board Systems, small online services run by normal people) Sysops


operators) are legally considered responsible for all the files that are available on their


(Elkin-Koren). While at first this seems like an obvious thing, afterall, it is their

computer, they

should know whats on it. However, if you had ever run a BBS before, which I do, you’d

know that its

hard, if not impossible to know whats on your computer. Planet-X, my friend John

Morse’s BBS, which I

co-run, has 50 calls a day. Of those 50 calls, about 35 of them upload or download

software. Neither

one of us is constantly monitoring the system, nor is there a way to make the computer


check to see what happens. Thus, about half of the public files on the BBS we don’t

know about.

Lets take a look at an example of BBSs and copyright, and how they

oh-so-beautifully coincide.

Sega Ltd., maker of the Sega Genesis and Sega Gamegear, recently sued the Maphia

BBS for making Sega

Genesis ROMs publically available in a download section. This section was a type of

“digital rental” as

it is commonly known in the BBS community. Commercial software publically available

for download, on an

on-your-honor system, you had to delete the files after a short period of time (24-48


Unfortunately for the Maphia BBS, they did not have a disclaimer, stating that the files

must be deleted

after a trial period, and thus, Sega was able to sue them for it, as without the disclaimer,

there was no

proof that they had used the “digital rental” system, and thus it was not fair use, as it

could be used

for monetary gain by the downloader (not having to buy the game). Of course, it could

be used for that

purpose WITH the disclaimer, but the disclaimer does just that, disc!

laims the BBS operator of the responsibilities of that copy of software (Elkin-Koren).

Another such case was the case between Playboy (I think we all know who that is),

and the Frena

BBS. The public file areas on the Frena BBS frequently contained image files, and more

often than not,

they were adult image files. Well, I don’t know exactly how it happened, but Playboy

somehow found out

that this BBS had some scanned photos from a Playboy magazine, and because they

have the copyright to all

their photos, they were able to sue the operator of the Frena BBS. The operator had no

idea that there

were any Playboy images on his system (Elkin-Koren).

Speaking of image files, they too can be a problem with software protection. Say

you’ve got an

image file that someone had copyrighted. You load it up in a photo-retouching program,

and add a big old

goat in the background and paint the sky red. Then you remove the artists file name.

Viola, the picture

is now semi-legally copyrighted to you, as it has been significantly changed from its

original, although

I wouldn’t recommend going to court over it (Grant 12). All you have to do is change a

very large

portion of the image files coding. Technically, darkening or blurring the image, changing

the file

format, or interlacing the file changes the file entirely, and thus, its yours. Sounds too

easy? It is.

Copyrights and patents are designed to help the media it protects. But in the case


technology, its actually hindering it. CD-ROMs contain a lot of information, and are the

perfect media

for music. A lesser known media, the Digital Video Disc, or DVD, is much more

versitile, containing 26

times the storage compacity of a CD-ROM, and 11500 times more than a standard

floppy disk, or about 17

gigabytes (the largest hard drives are 9 gigs). However, DVDs are not available to the

public. Why?

Because of the ease of copying them. We’ve all dubbed tapes, its easy to do. However,

we often opt for

higher quality originals, because there is always a bit of degradation in the copies

(although its very

small now). With DVDs, a copy is exactly that, a copy. No degradation, no reason to

buy an original.

All the big companies are really scared by this technology, because it will take another

five bucks out

of their pockets. DVDs would be one of the greatest advancements in the !

short history of computers, but because of the shadier uses it could be used for, we’ll

never see it. I

like to compare it to the Internet, its very useful, but it can be used for illegal purposes.

You be the

judge (Ross 134-140).

Luckily, we may yet someday see DVDs, because several companies are

developing copy protection

schemes for them, to stop the casual home hacker/copier. Macrovision, for instance, is


hardware for the DVD player that will make them incompatible with VCRs (the easiest

dubbing-to platform,

the equivilant of CD to audio tape). It will send output through the audio/video out ports

that when

played on a TV, will appear normal, but when played through a VCR, will have color

stripes running

sideways across the screen. This is due to the differences between the ways the two

work (Ross 134-140).

So as you can see, current methods of protecting software are a hinderance on the


industry. The problems outweigh the benefits, but with a new law, the industry would be

able to keep the

benefits and minimize any drawbacks. Instead of having to nitpick over who wrote

something that did

something similar, it would be back to who wrote something more powerful than the

other guy, and thats

what makes the industry great, competition. Oh, and I’d like to add that I broke

copyright law a total

of 13 times in the making of this report, when I made a copy of each reference with the

school copying

machine (James 16), although it was fair use, so I’m not in any trouble (Ruth).


David Cosgrove The Hare and the Tortoise: Internet and Copyright. (1995).

Tad Crawford Internet Copyright Law FAQ. (1996).

Anne Bilodeau House Bill Would Limit Hyperlinks.

http:/ (1996).

Richard Raysman et al Computer Law: Internet Copyright Developments. (1996).

Del Guercio, Gino. “Softwars.” World Monitor Oct. 1991: 22-24. Reprinted in

Technology 3. Boca Raton,

Florida: SIRS, Inc., 1996: Article 75.

Daniel Grant. “Computer Copycats Blur Rights.” Christian Science Monitor Oct. 3

1991: 12. Reprinted in

Technology 3. Boca Raton, Florida: SIRS, Inc., 1996: Article 75.

Daniel A Tysver BitLaw: Internet Linking


Daniel A Tysver BitLaw: Internet Software Patents (1996).

David Pressman Patent It Yourself (1996).

Niva Elkin-Koren Copyright Liability of BBS Operators (1995).

Gleick, James. “I’ll Take the Money, Thanks.” New York Times 4 Aug. 1996. 16.

Dukelow, Ruth. The Library Copyright Guide Chelsea, Michigan., 1992.

Ross, Philip E. “Cops vs Robbers in Cyberspace.” Forbes 9 Sept. 1996. 134-140.

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