TUCoPS :: Cyber Law :: copyrit1.txt

Copyrights & Computer Software Part 1

Copyright 1991 by S. Kitterman Jr. and the Las Vegas PC Users Group, 
316 Bridger Avenue, Suite 240; Las Vegas, NV 89101. All rights reserved.  
This file was originally printed in the October 1991 issue of The Bytes 
of Las Vegas, a publication of the Las Vegas PC Users Group, and may be 
reprinted only by nonprofit organizations.  
Please give proper credit to the author and The Bytes of Las Vegas.
Copyrights and Computer Software - An Introduction

by Sam Kitterman, Jr., LVPCUG

          [The purpose of these articles is to give general
information regarding copyrights and how they pertain to protection
of software.  It is not intended to constitute legal advice nor
should it be relied upon to address a particular situation since
the tone of the article itself is general in nature.  This part is an
overview of Copyright Law.]

          Much has been said about copyrights and whether such can
or can not protect something one has created, whether that
something, better known as the "work" in the parlance of copyright
law, is a book, a movie, or software.  
          Yet, what is a copyright?  Is it more than the ?  What
does it protect?  What doesn't it protect?  How does one obtain a
copyright?  Although multiple books have been written and can be
written on the subject, here's a glimpse into the World of
          Copyrights are a creation of Federal Law.  Found in 17
U.S.C. 101, et seq., the Copyright Act may protect a "work" if the
"work" meets the following criteria:
               (1)  It is an expression (the "work") of an idea
               where the expression is original; and,
               (2)  the expression is in a tangible form.
For example, if you had an idea for a story and wrote that story,
the manuscript would be the "work".  If your story was "original",
then the manuscript would be protectable under copyright.
          However, those criteria are subject to certain
exceptions.  First, certain materials are not copyrightable, to-
wit: works created by the United States Government, official
documents, or works that are "functional" in nature.  
          More importantly, it must be understood that the
copyright only protects the expression of the idea, not the idea
itself.  For example,  an individual copyrights their recipe for a
peanut butter pie.  The copyright only protects the written recipe
(the "expression"), not the actual making of the pie itself. 
Consequently, although one could not make a copy of the recipe,
they could take that recipe and make as many pies as they want for
whatever purpose, including selling them commercially.

          What does a Copyright protect?  Simply put, a valid
copyright grants the owner thereof the following rights:
               (1)  the exclusive right to reproduce the Work;
               (2)  the exclusive right to distribute the Work;
               (3)  the exclusive right to perform the Work;
               (4)  the exclusive right to prepare derivative
                    works based upon the "Work".
Again, there are certain exceptions to these rights which will be
discussed in a later article.

          What do these rights mean?  An example of these rights is
as follows: if you have "authored" a movie which is subject to a
valid copyright, then you have the sole right to make copies of
that movie, to take those copies and distribute them, to show the
movie, and to take clips from that movie and use those clips as you
see fit.

          How long is a copyright good for?  For works for which a
copyright registration has been obtained since 1978, the
registration is valid for the life of the author plus fifty years
from the time of creation of the Work.  For example, if I create a
piece of music on January 1, 1992 and register that music with the
Copyright Office, then my copyright is valid until my death, say
2030 plus fifty years, or in other words, 2080 is when that
copyright will expire.
          What does it take to obtain a copyright?  
          First, once you have authored the Work, or some
substantial form of it, make sure that you have placed the
Copyright Notice on those materials in a location reasonably
visible to the public.  The Copyright Notice consists of the
following elements: the symbol  or the word copyright, the year
you authored the Work, and your name or the name of the owner of
the copyright.  For example, if you were president of a corporation
and your employee created a software package for the corporation,
then the copyright notice would read as follows:

               (c) 1992 - John Doe Corporation.

          Although the law no longer requires use of the copyright
notice, you lose certain rights if you fail to use the notice.  So
the advice is: use it!
          Second, you should register the Work with the Copyright
Office.  This requires you to obtain the appropriate form for the
Work, i.e., if it is textual in nature, you use the TX form, if it
is a sound recording, you use the SR, etc.  You then fill out the
form, send the form with twenty dollars and a copy of the Work,
what is otherwise called the "Deposit".  If you've done everything
right, then you should receive your copyright registration anywhere
from four to six months thereafter.
          Although this may appear easy (and most of the time it
may be), certain rules and practices must be followed depending
upon the nature of the Work you are seeking to register.
          Why register?  If you fail to register the copyright for
your Work, you can not sue someone for infringement of your Work. 
Simple as that.
          In next month's issue I'll discuss details as to who is
considered the author of a Work, the requirement of originality for
a Work, and the types of works for which one can seek copyright
Copyright 1991--S. Kitterman Jr.

[Sam Kitterman, a member of the Las Vegas PC Users Group is an attorney 
with the firm of Quirk, Tratos & Rothel; he specializes in issues 
related to computer software. This is the first of a series 
of articles Sam is writing for The Bytes of Las Vegas.
It was originally published in the October 1991 issue of The Bytes of Las 
Vegas, the official newsletter of the Las Vegas PC Users Group.]

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