Current copright and patent laws are inapropriate for computer software; their
down software development and reduces competition.
From the first computer as we know them, the ENIAC, computer software has
important. From thousands of bytes on miles of paper to millions of bytes on a thin piece
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
having money on the go with ATM machines. However, with all the help that has been
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,
easily copied. Copied software does not make money for its creators, and thus they
not copied, and the whole industry inflates.
There are two categories of intellectual property. The first one is composed of
and films,which are covered by copyright. Inventions and innovations are covered by
categories have covered for years many kinds of work with little or no conflict.
not that easy when dealing with such a complex matter as computer software. When
a computer, it is considered writting, as it is all written words and numbers. However,
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
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
Copyrights last the lifetime of the author, plus 50 years, and can be renewed.
17 years, but cannot be renewed. With technology advancing so quickly, it is not
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
Graphic Program. With copyrighted material, one is able to write software similiar to
long as the programming code is their own, and not borrowed from the others (Del
keeps the industry competitive, and thus results in better software (because everyone is
don’t want to fall behind). With patents no one is allowed to create software that
functions. Take AutoCAD and TrueSpace 2, two 3D modeling programs. TrueSpace 2
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
years, and no one thought to patent them.
Thus, you can see the need for change in the system. The current laws regarding
of intellectual material cannot adequately protect software, they are either too weak or
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
software effectively, it can be just as protected as other mediums (Cosgrove). This is
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
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
in Congress to have a new law written just to cover that “Information Superhighway”
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
company and its software could use it. Any other companies that wanted to use the
pay them a large sum of money for the rights. Also, since patent hearings are conducted
3 years, and in secrecy, company ‘a’ might create a software package and then apply for
company ‘b’ may create better software during that period, and might become quite
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
report, I thought they had gone out of business, because I hadn’t heard about anything
them. Well, while I was researching, I found the appalling truth. When patenting of
acceptable in the early 90’s, they closed up their R;D departments and called in a bunch
get them patents on all their programming techniques (Del Guercio 22-24). Ever since
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
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
This would result in higher software prices (aren’t they high enough?), and reduced
programs, as they have to worry about the legalities more (Del Guercio 22-24).
patenting of software is not a widely loved policy, mostly embraced by large
Microsoft (Tysver “Software Patents”). Smaller companies and most often consumers
Even with all the legal problems I’ve mentioned that arise with current laws, thats
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
knew about software protection laws, and only one of them knew that software could be
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
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,
look at how it can affect you. Say you’ve got a web page, and you’ve got a link on your
friend Bob’s web page, and he’s got a link on his page to “Joe’S LeeT PiRaCY aND
site, there is a link to a pirated copy of AutoCAD. Then Joe gets busted. Joe will
in trouble, Bob will likely be either questioned or considered responsible, depending on
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
site regarding information on emulators of old video game systems. When the operator
got sued by a video game company (I think it was Konami), I too got questioned, and
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
asking.What is a copy of software? Is it a physical clone of the media it came on? Or
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
software is a copy, but did you know that even running the software creates a copy of
When you load a program, it goes into your computers memory, and is legally
copy does not stay indefinately, it does stay long enough to perform a certain task, and
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
should know whats on it. However, if you had ever run a BBS before, which I do, you’d
hard, if not impossible to know whats on your computer. Planet-X, my friend John
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
Genesis ROMs publically available in a download section. This section was a type of
it is commonly known in the BBS community. Commercial software publically available
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
after a trial period, and thus, Sega was able to sue them for it, as without the disclaimer,
proof that they had used the “digital rental” system, and thus it was not fair use, as it
for monetary gain by the downloader (not having to buy the game). Of course, it could
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),
BBS. The public file areas on the Frena BBS frequently contained image files, and more
they were adult image files. Well, I don’t know exactly how it happened, but Playboy
that this BBS had some scanned photos from a Playboy magazine, and because they
their photos, they were able to sue the operator of the Frena BBS. The operator had no
were any Playboy images on his system (Elkin-Koren).
Speaking of image files, they too can be a problem with software protection. Say
image file that someone had copyrighted. You load it up in a photo-retouching program,
goat in the background and paint the sky red. Then you remove the artists file name.
is now semi-legally copyrighted to you, as it has been significantly changed from its
I wouldn’t recommend going to court over it (Grant 12). All you have to do is change a
portion of the image files coding. Technically, darkening or blurring the image, changing
format, or interlacing the file changes the file entirely, and thus, its yours. Sounds too
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
for music. A lesser known media, the Digital Video Disc, or DVD, is much more
times the storage compacity of a CD-ROM, and 11500 times more than a standard
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,
higher quality originals, because there is always a bit of degradation in the copies
small now). With DVDs, a copy is exactly that, a copy. No degradation, no reason to
All the big companies are really scared by this technology, because it will take another
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
like to compare it to the Internet, its very useful, but it can be used for illegal purposes.
Luckily, we may yet someday see DVDs, because several companies are
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
sideways across the screen. This is due to the differences between the ways the two
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
benefits and minimize any drawbacks. Instead of having to nitpick over who wrote
something similar, it would be back to who wrote something more powerful than the
what makes the industry great, competition. Oh, and I’d like to add that I broke
of 13 times in the making of this report, when I made a copy of each reference with the
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.
Anne Bilodeau House Bill Would Limit Hyperlinks.
Richard Raysman et al Computer Law: Internet Copyright Developments.
Del Guercio, Gino. “Softwars.” World Monitor Oct. 1991: 22-24. Reprinted in
Florida: SIRS, Inc., 1996: Article 75.
Daniel Grant. “Computer Copycats Blur Rights.” Christian Science Monitor Oct. 3
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.