Computer Copyright Laws

By Louis Kroeck

There are a large variety of copyright laws and similar regulations dealing with modern computing technology. Examples include the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), laws regarding when you can make a backup of computer software, and common-law court decisions interpreting the application of copyright law principles to the use and manipulation of computer software. Copyright protection does not extend to most forms of computer hardware as computer hardware does not contain the expressive elements necessary for copyright protection.

There are a large variety of copyright laws and similar regulations dealing with modern computing technology. Examples include the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), laws regarding when you can make a backup of computer software, and common-law court decisions interpreting the application of copyright law principles to the use and manipulation of computer software. Copyright protection does not extend to most forms of computer hardware as computer hardware does not contain the expressive elements necessary for copyright protection.

Origins of Software Copyrights

When computer software was first introduced it was not clear if copyright protection was applicable. The U.S. Copyright Office determined that a computer program was similar to a how-to guide and granted copyright protection to computer software provided that the software met certain requirements. The Copyright Office required that computer software express elements sufficient to display a work of original authorship, be intelligible to humans, and be published with the copyright notice that was required at the time. Copyright notice is no longer required by U.S. States Copyright Office, and since the first computer programs were copyrighted there have been many expansions in copyright law regarding computer software.

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Scope of Protection

A copyright cannot protect every aspect of computer software as many aspects are inherently functional, as opposed to expressive, and based on algorithms, ideas, methods, concepts or logical systems. Some of these aspects of computer software may be eligible for patent protection rather than copyright protection. The expressive elements of ideas and concepts may be protected under copyright law but the underlying ideas and concepts themselves are not independently worthy of registration. Copyright protection will extend to many other elements of computer software including the screen display projected by the computer software, the look and feel of the software, the computer code, and any other aspects of the software containing a minimal degree of originality.

Making Copies

Copyright law prohibits the unauthorized copying, distribution or dissemination of copyrighted works. These restrictions create a unique circumstance for computer software because of the ease with which computer software can be copied and distributed to third parties. Under Section 117 of the United States Copyright Act, individuals who hold a valid copy of computer software are entitled to make one copy for the limited purpose of archiving or backing up their computer software. Copyright law does not permit software users to distribute copies of protected computer software, and if the original software is sold or transferred, any backup copies must be destroyed.

Digital Millennium Copyright Act

The DMCA is one of the major modern copyright laws governing the use of copyrighted material over the Internet. The "safe harbor" provisions of the DMCA protect Internet service providers and website hosts from liability associated with copyrighted material that may be posted on their website by third parties. The DMCA allows a party who believes that his copyright has been infringed to send a notice of infringement demanding that the website host remove the content. As long as website hosts comply with such demands they are generally protected from claims of vicarious copyright infringement. In addition to safe harbor provisions, the DMCA contains provisions prohibiting circumvention of hardware and software access controls and technical protection measures.

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The Most Important Limitations of Fair Use Copyright Laws

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Software Copyright Issues

A copyright protects an original work of authorship by giving the copyright holder a monopoly on the right to reproduce, sell, publicly display, publicly perform, adapt or license it. Although copyright law applies equally to software algorithms and other works of authorship such as musical compositions, the application of copyright law to software is unique because of the nature of software itself.

About Copyright Laws for Movies

A copyright provides a legal monopoly on an original work of authorship, allowing the copyright holder to sue anyone who uses his work without authorization. Copyright protection applies to any work of art, including movies. Copyright law is governed primarily by the U.S. Copyright Law; with a few exceptions, the law prohibits state governments from legislating in this area. International copyright protection is available under several international treaties.

Song Lyrics & Copyright Laws

Copyright law protects all aspects of an artistic work, as long as the work is original and has been reduced to a tangible medium. Song lyrics, for example, are protected as soon as they are recorded, whether in audio or written form. Although you don’t need to register your song lyrics with the U.S. Copyright Office to enjoy copyright protection, registration makes it easier to prove that you wrote the lyrics before the infringer did and allows you to collect damages without proving economic harm.

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