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From umd5!mimsy!oddjob!hao!husc6!rutgers!ames!sdcsvax!brian Tue Sep 8 14:05:39 EDT 1987
Article 15 of comp.doc:
>From: [email protected] (Brian Kantor)
Newsgroups: comp.doc
Message-ID: <[email protected]>
Date: 6 Sep 87 14:28:00 GMT
Distribution: usa
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Copyright Law

Jordan J. Breslow
1225 Alpine Road, Suite 200
Walnut Creek, CA 94596
+1 415 932 4828

I am an attorney practicing copyright law and computer law.
I read a series of queries in about copyright law and
was dismayed to find that people who had no idea what they were
talking about were spreading misinformation over the network.
Considering that the penalties for copyright infringement can in-
clude $50,000.00 damages per infringed work, attorneys fees,
court costs, criminal fines and imprisonment, and considering
that ignorance is no excuse and innocent intent is not even a
recognized defense, I cringe to see the network used as a soapbox
for the ill-informed. For that reason, this article will discuss
copyright law and license law as they pertain to computer

My goal is to enable readers to determine when they should
be concerned about infringing and when they can relax about it.
I also want to let programmers know how to obtain copyright for
their work. I'll explain the purpose of software licenses, and
discuss the effect that the license has on copyright. For those
of you who are programmers, I'll help you decide whether you own
the programs you write on the job or your boss owns them. I will
also mention trademark law and patent law briefly, in order to
clarify some confusion about which is which. Incidentally, if
you read this entire essay, you will be able to determine whether
or not the essay is copyrighted and whether or not you can make a
printout of it.

This is a long article, and you may not want to read all of
it. Here is an outline to help you decide what to read and what
to ignore:
1. The Meaning of Copyright from the Viewpoint of the Software User
1.1 A bit of history
1.2 The meaning of copyright
1.3 The meaning of public domain
1.4 A hypothetical software purchase
1.5 Can you use copyrighted software?
1.6 Can you make a backup copy?
1.7 Licenses may change the rules

(C) Copyright 1986 Breslow, Redistributed by permission

Copyright Law 1

Copyright Law 2

1.8 Can you modify the program?
1.9 Can you break the copy protection scheme?
1.10 Summary

2. Copyright Sounds Neat -- How Do I Get One? Or, How Do I Know If
this Program is Copyrighted?
2.1 How do you get a copyright?
2.2 How do you lose a copyright?
2.3 How do you waste a stamp?
2.4 Do you have to register?
2.5 How copyright comes into existence
2.6 The copyright notice
2.7 Advantages of registration
2.8 A test to see if you understand this article

3. Who Owns The Program You Wrote?
3.1 Introduction
3.2 Programs written as an employee
3.3 Programs written as a contractor

4. A Brief Word about Licenses
4.1 Why a license?
4.2 Is it valid?

5.1 Trademark law explained
5.2 Patent law

6. Conclusion

1. The Meaning of Copyright from the Viewpoint of the Software

1.1. A bit of history

If you're not interested in history, you can skip this para-
graph. Modern copyright law first came into existence in 1570,
by an act of Parliament called the Statute of Anne. Like most
laws, it hasn't changed much since. It was written with books
and pictures in mind. Parliament, lacking the foresight to
predict the success of the Intel and IBM corporations, failed to
consider the issue of copyrighting computer programs.

At first, courts questioned whether programs could be copy-
righted at all. The problem was that judges couldn't read the
programs and they figured the Copyright Law was only meant to ap-
ply to things humans (which arguably includes judges) could read
without the aid of a machine. I saw some mythical discussion
about that in some of the drivel. Let's lay that to
rest: programs are copyrightable as long as there is even a
minimal amount of creativity. The issue was laid to rest with
the Software Act of 1980. That Act modified the Copyright Act
(which is a Federal law by the way), in such a way as to make it

News Version B 2.11 February 26, 1986

Copyright Law 3

clear that programs are copyrightable. The few exceptions to
this rule will rarely concern anyone. The next question to arise
was whether a program was copyrightable if it was stored in ROM
rather than on paper. The decision in the Apple v. Franklin
case laid that to rest: it is.

1.2. The meaning of copyright

Now, what is copyright? As it is commonly understood, it is
the right to make copies of something -- or to put it the other
way around, it is the right to prohibit other people from making
copies. This is known as an exclusive right -- the exclusive
right to reproduce, in the biological language of the Copyright
Act -- and what most people don't know is that copyright involves
not one, not two, but five exclusive rights. These are (1) the
exclusive right to make copies, (2) the exclusive right to dis-
tribute copies to the public, (3) the exclusive right to prepare
derivative works (I'll explain, just keep reading), (4) the ex-
clusive right to perform the work in public (this mainly applies
to plays, dances and the like, but it could apply to software),
and (5) the exclusive right to display the work in public (such
as showing a film).

1.3. The meaning of public domain

Before we go any further, what is public domain? I saw some
discussion on the net about public domain software being copy-
righted. Nonsense. The phrase public domain, when used correct-
ly, means the absence of copyright protection. It means you can
copy public domain software to your heart's content. It means
that the author has none of the exclusive rights listed above.
If someone uses the phrase public domain to refer to freeware
(software which is copyrighted but is distributed without advance
payment but with a request for a donation), he or she is using
the term incorrectly. Public domain means no copyright -- no ex-
clusive rights.

1.4. A hypothetical software purchase

Let's look at those exclusive rights from the viewpoint of
someone who has legitimately purchased a single copy of a copy-
righted computer program. For the moment, we'll have to ignore
the fact that the program is supposedly licensed, because the
license changes things. I'll explain that later. For now, as-
sume you went to Fred's Diner and Software Mart and bought a
dozen eggs, cat food and a word processing program. And for now,
assume the program is copyrighted.

1.5. Can you use copyrighted software?

What can you do with this copyrighted software? Let's start
with the obvious: can you use it on your powerful Timex PC? Is
this a joke? No. Prior to 1980, my answer might have been No,
you can't use it!

News Version B 2.11 February 26, 1986

Copyright Law 4

People actually pay me for advice like that! Well think:
you take the floppy disk out of the zip lock baggy, insert it in
drive A and load the program into RAM. What have you just done?
You've made a copy in RAM -- in legalese, you've reproduced the
work, in violation of the copyright owner's exclusive right to
reproduce. (I better clarify something here: the copyright own-
er is the person or company whose name appears in the copyright
notice on the box, or the disk or the first screen or wherever.
It may be the person who wrote the program, or it may be his
boss, or it may be a publishing company that bought the rights to
the program. But in any case, it's not you. When you buy a copy
of the program, you do not become the copyright owner. You just
own one copy.)

Anyway, loading the program into RAM means making a copy.
The Software Act of 1980 addressed this absurdity by allowing you
to make a copy if the copy "is created as an essential step in
the utilization of the computer program in conjunction with a
machine and ... is used in no other manner ...." By the way,
somebody tell me what a machine means. If you connect 5 PC's on
a network is that a machine or several machines? A related ques-
tion is whether or not running software on a network constitutes
a performance. The copyright owner has the exclusive right to do
that, remember?

1.6. Can you make a backup copy?

OK, so you bought this copyrighted program and you loaded it
into RAM or onto a hard disk without the FBI knocking on your
door. Now can you make a backup copy? YES. The Software Act
also provided that you can make a backup copy, provided that it
"is for archival purposes only ...." What you cannot do, howev-
er, is give the archive copy to your friend so that you and your
pal both got the program for the price of one. That violates the
copyright owner's exclusive right to distribute copies to the
public. Get it? You can, on the other hand, give both your ori-
ginal and backup to your friend -- or sell it to him, or lend it
to him, as long as you don't retain a copy of the program you are
selling. Although the copyright owner has the exclusive right to
distribute (sell) copies of the program, that right only applies
to the first sale of any particular copy. By analogy, if you buy
a copyrighted book, you are free to sell your book to a friend.
The copyright owner does not have the right to control resales.

1.7. Licenses may change the rules

At this point, let me remind you that we have assumed that
the program you got at the store was sold to you, not licensed to
you. Licenses may change the rules.

1.8. Can you modify the program?

Now, you're a clever programmer, and you know the program
could run faster with some modifications. You could also add

News Version B 2.11 February 26, 1986

Copyright Law 5

graphics and an interactive mode and lots of other stuff. What
does copyright law say about your plans? Well ... several dif-
ferent things, actually. First, recall that the copyright owner
has the exclusive right to make derivative works. A derivative
work is a work based on one or more preexisting works. It's easy
to recognize derivative works when you think about music or
books. If a book is copyrighted, derivative works could include
a screenplay, an abridged edition, or a translation into another
language. Derivative works of songs might be new arrangements
(like the jazz version of Love Potion Number 9), a movie
soundtrack, or a written transcription, or a long version, (such
as the fifteen minute version of "Wipe Out" with an extended drum
solo for dance parties). In my opinion, you are making a deriva-
tive work when you take the store-bought word processor and modi-
fy it to perform differently. The same would be true if you
translated a COBOL program into BASIC. Those are copyright in-
fringements -- you've horned in on the copyright owner's ex-
clusive right to make derivative works. There is, however, some
breathing room. The Software Act generously allows you to adapt
the code if the adaptation "is created as an essential step in
the utilization of the computer program in conjunction with a
machine ...." For example, you might have to modify the code to
make it compatible with your machine.

1.9. Can you break the copy protection scheme?

Moving right along, let's assume your store bought program
is copy protected, and you'd really like to make a backup copy.
You know this nine-year-old whiz who can crack any copy-
protection scheme faster than you can rearrange a Rubix cube. Is
there a copyright violation if he succeeds? There's room to ar-
gue here. When you try to figure out if something is an infringe-
ment, ask yourself, what exclusive right am I violating? In this
case, not the right to make copies, and not the right to distri-
bute copies. Public performance and display have no relevance.
So the key question is whether you are making a derivative work.
My answer to that question is, "I doubt it." On the other hand,
I also doubt that breaking the protection scheme was "an essen-
tial step" in using the program in conjunction with a machine.
It might be a "fair use," but that will have to wait for another
article. Anyone interested in stretching the limits of the "fair
use" defense should read the Sony Betamax case.

1.10. Summary

Let me summarize. Copyright means the copyright owner has
the exclusive right to do certain things. Copyright infringement
means you did one of those exclusive things (unless you did it
within the limits of the Software Act, i.e., as an essential step

News Version B 2.11 February 26, 1986

Copyright Law 6

2. Copyright Sounds Neat -- How Do I Get One? Or, How Do I Know
if this Program is Copyrighted?

2.1. How do you get a copyright?

If you've written an original program, what do you have to
do to get a copyright? Nothing. You already have one.

2.2. How do you lose a copyright?

If you've written an original program, what do you have to
do to lose your copyright protection? Give copies away without
the copyright notice.

2.3. How do you waste a stamp?

If you mail the program to yourself in a sealed envelope,
what have you accomplished? You've wasted a stamp and an envelope
and burdened the postal system unnecessarily.

2.4. Do you have to register?

Do you have to register your program with the U.S. Copyright
Office? No, but it's a damn good idea.

2.5. How copyright comes into existence

Copyright protection (meaning the five exclusive rights)
comes into existence the moment you fix your program in a tangi-
ble medium. That means write it down, or store it on a floppy
disk, or do something similar. Registration is optional. The
one thing you must do, however, is protect your copyright by in-
cluding a copyright notice on every copy of every program you
sell, give away, lend out, etc. If you don't, someone who hap-
pens across your program with no notice on it can safely assume
that it is in the public domain (unless he actually knows that it
is not).

2.6. The copyright notice

The copyright notice has three parts. The first can be ei-
ther a c with a circle around it ((C)), or the word Copyright or
the abbreviation Copr. The c with a circle around it is prefer-
able, because it is recognized around the world; the others are
not. That's incredibly important. Countries around the world
have agreed to recognize and uphold each others' copyrights, but
this world-wide protection requires the use of the c in a circle.
On disk labels and program packaging, use the encircled c. Un-
fortunately, computers don't draw small circles well, so program-
mers have resorted to a c in parentheses: (c). Too bad. That
has no legal meaning. When you put your notice in the code and
on the screen, use Copyright or Copr. if you can't make a cir-

News Version B 2.11 February 26, 1986

Copyright Law 7

The second part of the notice is the "year of first publica-
tion of the work." Publication doesn't mean distribution by Os-
borne Publishing Co. It means distribution of copies of the pro-
gram to the public "by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by
rental, lease, or lending." So when you start handing out or
selling copies of your precious code, you are publishing. Publi-
cation also takes place when you merely OFFER to distribute
copies to a group for further distribution. Your notice must in-
clude the year that you first did so.

The third part of the notice is the name of the owner of the
copyright. Hopefully, that's you, in which case your last name
will do. If your company owns the program -- a legal issue which
I will address later in this article -- the company name is ap-

Where do you put the notice? The general idea is to put it
where people are likely to see it. Specifically, if you're dis-
tributing a human-readable code listing, put it on the first page
in the first few lines of code, and hard code it so that it ap-
pears on the title screen, or at sign-off, or continuously. If
you're distributing machine-readable versions only, hard code it.
As an extra precaution, you should also place the notice on the
gummed disk label or in some other fashion permanently attached
to the storage medium.

2.7. Advantages of registration

Now, why register the program? If no one ever rips off your
program, you won't care much about registration. If someone does
rip it off, you'll kick yourself for not having registered it.
The reason is that if the program is registered before the in-
fringement takes place, you can recover some big bucks from the
infringer, called statutory damages, and the court can order the
infringer to pay your attorneys fees. Registration only costs
$10.00, and it's easy to do yourself. The only potential disad-
vantage is the requirement that you deposit the first and last 25
pages of your source code, which can be inspected (but not
copied) by members of the public.

2.8. A test to see if you understand this article

Now, someone tell me this: is this article copyrighted?
Can you print it?

3. Who Owns The Program You Wrote?

3.1. Introduction

The starting point of this analysis is that if you wrote the
program, you are the author, and copyright belongs to the author.
HOWEVER, that can change instantly. There are two common ways for
your ownership to shift to someone else: first, your program
might be a "work for hire." Second, you might sell or assign

News Version B 2.11 February 26, 1986

Copyright Law 8

your rights in the program, which for our purposes means the

3.2. Programs written as an employee

Most of the programs which you write at work, if not all of
them, belong to your employer. That's because a program prepared
by an employee within the scope of his or her employment is a
"work for hire," and the employer is considered the author. This
is more or less automatic if you are an employee -- no written
agreement is necessary to make your employer the copyright owner.
By contrast, if you can convince your employer to let you be the
copyright owner, you must have that agreement in writing.

By the way, before you give up hope of owning the copyright
to the program you wrote at work, figure out if you are really an
employee. That is actually a complex legal question, but I can
tell you now that just because your boss says you are an employee
doesn't mean that it's so. And remember that if you created the
program outside the scope of your job, the program is not a "work
for hire." Finally, in California and probably elsewhere, the
state labor law provides that employees own products they create
on their own time, using their own tools and materials. Employ-
ment contracts which attempt to make the employer the owner of
those off-the-job inventions are void, at least in sunny Califor-

3.3. Programs written as a contractor

Wait a minute: I'm an independent contractor to Company X,
not an employee. I come and go as I please, get paid by the hour
with no tax withheld, and was retained to complete a specific
project. I frequently work at home with my own equipment. Is
the program I'm writing a "work for hire," owned by the Company?
Maybe, maybe not. In California, this area is full of landmines
for employers, and gold for contractors.

A contractor's program is not a "work for hire," and is not
owned by the company, unless (1) there is a written agreement
between the company and the contractor which says that it is, and
(2) the work is a commissioned work. A commissioned work is one
of the following: (a) a contribution to a collective work, (b)
an audiovisual work (like a movie, and maybe like a video game),
(c) a translation, (d) a compilation, (e) an instructional text,
(f) a test or answer to a test, or (g) an atlas. I know you must
be tired of definitions, but this is what the real legal world is
made of. An example of a collective work is a book of poetry,
with poems contributed by various authors. A piece of code which
is incorporated into a large program isn't a contribution to a
collective work, but a stand-alone program which is packaged and
sold with other stand-alone programs could be.

So where are we? If you are a contract programmer, not an
employee, and your program is a commissioned work, and you have a

News Version B 2.11 February 26, 1986

Copyright Law 9

written agreement that says that the program is a "work for hire"
owned by the greedy company, who owns the program? That's right,
the company. But guess what? In California and elsewhere the
company just became your employer! This means that the company
must now provide worker's compensation benefits for you AND UNEM-

4. A Brief Word About Licenses.

4.1. Why a license?

When you get software at the local five and dime, the
manufacturer claims that you have a license to use that copy of
the program. The reason for this is that the manufacturer wants
to place more restrictions on your use of the program than copy-
right law places. For example, licenses typically say you can
only use the program on a single designated CPU. Nothing in the
copyright law says that. Some licenses say you cannot make an
archive copy. The copyright law says you can, remember? But if
the license is a valid license, now you can't. You can sell or
give away your copy of a program if you purchased it, right?
That's permitted by copyright law, but the license may prohibit
it. The more restrictive terms of the license will apply instead
of the more liberal copyright rules.

4.2. Is it valid?

Is the license valid? This is hotly debated among lawyers.
(What isn't? We'll argue about the time of day.) A few states
have passed or will soon pass laws declaring that they are valid.
A few will go the other way. Federal legislation is unlikely.
My argument is that at the consumer level, the license is not
binding because there is no true negotiation (unless a state law
says it is binding), but hey that's just an argument and I'm not
saying that that's the law. In any case, I think businesses
which buy software will be treated differently in court than con-
sumers. Businesses should read those licenses and negotiate with
the manufacturer if the terms are unacceptable.

5. I Have A Neat Idea. Can I Trademark It? What About patent?

5.1. Trademark law explained

Sorry, no luck. Trademark law protects names: names of
products and names of services. (Note that I did not say names
of companies. Company names are not trademarkable.) If you buy
a program that has a trademarked name, all that means is that you
can't sell your own similar program under the same name. It has
nothing to do with copying the program.

5.2. Patent Law

Patent law can apply to computer programs, but it seldom
does. The main reasons it seldom applies are practical: the

News Version B 2.11 February 26, 1986

Copyright Law 10

patent process is too slow and too expensive to do much good in
the software world. There are also considerable legal hurdles to
overcome in order to obtain a patent. If, by chance, a program
is patented, the patent owner has the exclusive right to make,
use or sell it for 17 years.


I know this is a long article, but believe it or not I just
scratched the surface. Hopefully, you'll find this information
useful, and you'll stop passing along myths about copyright law.
If anyone needs more information, I can be reached at the address
on the first page. Sorry, but I do not usually have access to
the network, so you can't reach me there.


News Version B 2.11 February 26, 1986

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