Software and copyright
From the first computer as we know them, the ENIAC, computer software has
become more and more
of tin foil
sandwitched between two pieces of plastic, software has played an important part in the
have most likely played an important role in all our lives, from making math easier with
given to us, we
charge more for whats
not copied, and the whole industry inflates.
There are two categories of intellectual property. The first one is composed of
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
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
renew them (Del Guercio 22-24), say, for a 10th sequel in a video game series or
version 47.1 of Bob’s
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
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.
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
renewable. This is long enough to protect a program for as long as it is still useful, and
sequels and new versions just in case. It would also have to allow for others to make
keeping the industry competitive, but it would have to not allow copying of portions of
(because you can’t ‘quote’ something from someone elses software like you can with a
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
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
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
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
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
new being done by
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
such as say, mouse support. Now, it can’t happen to mouse support as it is today, but in
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
videogames. Who said procrastination was bad?
How can you prosecute someone for a crime that is undefined? Thats a question
many people are
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.
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
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
should know whats on it. However, if you had ever run a BBS before, which I do, you’d
know that its
Morse’s BBS, which I
co-run, has 50 calls a day. Of those 50 calls, about 35 of them upload or download
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
Lets take a look at an example of BBSs and copyright, and how they
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
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
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
portion of the image files coding. Technically, darkening or blurring the image, changing
easy? It is.
technology, its actually hindering it. CD-ROMs contain a lot of information, and are the
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
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
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
the equivilant of CD to audio tape). It will send output through the audio/video out ports
played on a TV, will appear normal, but when played through a VCR, will have color
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
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.
Tad Crawford Internet Copyright Law FAQ.
Richard Raysman et al Computer Law: Internet Copyright Developments.
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 http://www.bitlaw.com/internet/linking.html
Daniel A Tysver BitLaw: Internet Software Patents
David Pressman Patent It Yourself http://www.nolo.com/pat/toc.html (1996).
Niva Elkin-Koren Copyright Liability of BBS Operators
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.