Software Copyright Law
(With due credit to M. Oppenheimer, law)
(firm of Venable, Baetjer & Howard)
(Summarized from Tech Journal, 12/85)
Well, you've done it! Just completed getting a copy of every
piece of software ever issued...126 diskbanks full, not counting
the stuff in the closet and under the bed. As you sit down to
await the next release, you notice the headlines in the local
paper about latest BBS and its members being crashed...amongst the
other "crimes" was possession of illegally copied
software....something about violation of the Copyright Act.
All is not lost....even the American Bar Association can't
come to an agreement. In fact, the ABAecently issued an advisory
report on software copyright law and the only conclusion they
could agree on was that "the issues are so complex a consensus
cannot be reached...." So the next time you sit now to play SKYFOX
(six months before its public release!) consider the following
Issue #1: The first sale doctrine....Section 109 of the
Copyright Act permits the owner (you do buy only original
software, don't you?) of a copyrighted product to dispose of it as
he chooses. The purchaser of a copy of a book can decide to read,
lend, sell, rent or throw it away. Section 109 likewise directly
applies to software!
Issue #2: The meaning of copying a computer program,art 1....
Under some interpretations of the Copyright Act, the loading of
program into memory is deamed to create a copy.....in which case
the general copyright law prohibition of copying would be
violated! Simple translation: Loading a program from disk into
RAM memory can be considered an illegal act!
Issue #3: The meaning of copying a computer program, part
2....In legal terms, all those BBS's you d/l from are considered
to be "Local Area Networks", or LANs for short. Section 117 of the
Copyright Act authorizes thereation of a copy (or adaption!) of a
computer program as "an essential step in the utilization of a
computer program....". The placement of such copies on LANS is not
forbidden under the copyright law!
Issue #4: Reverse engineering.....The Copyright Act presently
allows for the user of a software program to disassemble,
decompile, print or to try any other form of what is referred to
as reverse engineering. Section 117 of the Copyright Act as been
legally held to "...provide that there is a type of 'fair use' for
software buyers such that they can take steps to understand the
inner workings of software in order to make adaptions..." This is
the reason more and more warez houses are going to what are called
license arrangements, e.g. ....purchase of this software grants a
license to the user to only use it, not copy, dissassemble, etc.
The ABA's view of such arrangements is that ...." many of these
arrangements are through self-executing licenses of questionable
Issue #5: The famous copyright symbol.....For some reason,
computer companies have not included a key that produces the
standard c in-a-circle copyright symbol. Typing the word
"copyright" is simple enough, but compliance with international
law requires the symbol instead of the word!
Issue #6: Copyright and trade secrecy.....This one is a bit
complicated..basically the 1976 Federal Copyright Act preempted
state laws dealing with similar protections. The legal argument
here is that the Federal law also did away with state trade secret
laws. The reason this is protection for both.....sorry
BORLAND....that's a no, no....)
The present copyright law is so rife with ambiguities that
you can drive a computer through it.
Happy Torts The Hoppist 12/24/85