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.

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.

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.

Protect against infringement by registering a copyright. Get Started Now

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.

Protect against infringement by registering a copyright. Get Started Now
Copyright Law for Unpublished Manuscripts & Archival Collections



Related articles

What Is the Copyright Law Regarding Artwork?

A variety of copyright laws are specific to artwork, as artwork provides some considerations unique to other copyrighted materials. In particular, artwork is subject to the Visual Artists Rights Act, the first sale doctrine and specific resale rights which vary by location. Finally, artwork can be subject to rules regarding works made for hire, since artwork is often commissioned.

Copyright Laws on Exercise Routines

Title 17 of the U.S. Code extends copyright protection to original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works. Exercise routines that fall within any of these categories may be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. Copyright does not extend to ideas or concepts that have not been fixed in a tangible form. To benefit from copyright protection, the creator of an original routine must therefore either write it down or record it in a video or multimedia format.

Copyright Laws & Video Games

Video games form the heart of a vital economic industry that relies on the creativity of game designers and innovative companies to develop a consistently fresh supply of new games. Copyright law protects the economic value of video games by insuring that only the creator of the work has the right to duplicate, sell or make related merchandise from the game codes, images, dialogue and characters.


Related articles

What Is the Importance of Copyright Laws on the Web?

During times of rapid technological advance, the law often lags behind. This is nowhere more true than on the Web, ...

Copyright Rules & Time Limits

U.S. federal laws provide the basis for copyright rules and time limits. The general purpose of copyright law is to ...

Examples of Fair Use Copyright Laws in the Classroom

Copyright laws protect creative works such as photographs, paintings, poems, books and essays. The copyright gives the ...

Exemptions for Fair Use of Copyrighted Works

The fair use doctrine limits a copyright holder's rights. The U.S. Copyright Act gives copyright holders the right to ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED