Software Copyright – Basics Explained [Guide 2021]


 

Software Copyright is the most common method used to protect software.

A programmer automatically owns the copyright of any program they write (it does not need to be applied for) and it lasts until 70 years after the death of the author.

This article will give you a quick overview to software copyright and its basics.

 
 
 
 

What is Software Copyright?

Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, but instead protects the way that these things are expressed. You can outline your ideas in writing or drawings, but a copyright cannot protect the idea itself. Instead, it protects fixed, tangible mediums of expression that can be reproduced, i.e. the final written or artistic work.

Historically, computer programs were not protected by copyright because until 1974 computer programs were not viewed as fixed, tangible objects. However, in 1983 traditional copyright law was extended to include machine-readable software and the Copyright Act awarded computer programs the same copyright status as literary works. While many of the same legal principles and policies apply, there are a number of distinct issues that arise with software copyright.

 
 

Software Copyright Infringement

When you run a program on a computer it is often impossible to avoid copying some of the code as there is normally some automatic copying of the program that takes place within the computer’s memory in order to enable the software to function. Also uniquely with software, copyright is not only infringed by taking a direct copy of the original work, but also by adapting versions of the original.

So for example, if the code (source code or compiled code) is re-written or otherwise converted into another computer language, this is also deemed an infringement of software copyright law as it is a ‘derivative’ work, and an appropriate licence is required to do this.

Software copyright can also be infringed without even taking a copy of the code. For example, using an original computer program for “inspiration”, to create the same functionality in a new program. Even if none of the original code is actually used, the copyright in the original program may in some cases be infringed.

Software copyright is a complex and evolving area of law and unlike other artistic works, software copies are sold with specific terms attached, in order to highlight what constitutes acceptable usage.

 
 

How to copyright software

Software copyright is predominantly used by software developers and proprietary software owners to prevent unauthorized copying of their software. The copyright holder is typically the work’s creator, or a publisher or other business to whom copyright has been assigned. Copyright holders routinely invoke legal and technological measures to prevent and penalize copyright infringement (more commonly referred to as piracy) where works protected by copyright law are used without permission.

For works such as software and web applications, the source code is primarily where copyright exists and a copyright notice should be inserted in the headers of all source code files, help files, user manuals and/or ‘about this software’ pages, to make the assertion of copyright explicit.

Where there is no direct copying of code, line-for-line, it can be difficult to prove that copying has actually occurred. One way of trying to make copying easier to detect is to include redundant code or program components in among the real code. If an alleged copy includes the same redundant program components, even if they are not line-for-line copies, it can provide a very strong inference that copying has occurred.

Independent software vendors should be very careful about disclosing source code. If someone can independently create from scratch what you have produced, just by looking at your source code, providing that the code is substantively different then your software copyright has not been infringed. The modification of your copyrighted software for personal use may also be deemed acceptable under the caveat of ‘fair use’ and also code breaking and reverse engineering when a ‘legitimate reason’ can be provided for doing so. However, ultimately any unauthorized use of the software is deemed to be piracy or theft, in recognition of the commercial harm of infringement of copyright holders.

Software copyright can be difficult to enforce. However, using an identity-based licensing solution will ensure that you always know who your end-users are.

See Also

Software Intellectual Property

Software Licence Compliance

 
 
 
9th June 2021
10Duke Digital Rights Management

Digital Rights Management vs. Software Licensing – What’s the difference?

Digital Rights Management and Software Licensing both deal with protecting copyrighted materials. Learn the difference and more.
12th May 2021
license management solution

Software Activation – The Good, The Bad and the Modern

Software Activation is a technology that verifies a software product has been legitimately licensed for use. Learn how to do it effectively.
18th February 2021
How to Protect Software IP?

Software IP Protection – How to protect Software Intellectual Property?

Software IP protection strategy is not just about limiting access. Best IP protection also aims to enhance customer experience.
25th January 2021
Stop selling perpetual licenses to your customers

Why You Should Stop Selling Perpetual Licenses to Your Product

It’s no longer financially viable for software vendors to offer a ‘one size fits all’ perpetual software license model.
18th January 2021
License servers ticking time bomb for software business

License Servers – A Ticking Time Bomb For Your Software Business?

License server is an outdated legacy solution that is blocking software companies from scaling up. Learn why and how to overcome this licensing problem.
27th August 2020
Subscription model shouldn't be forced on all products.

When a Subscription Model Doesn’t Fit… Alternatives to the Subscription Model

The subscription model is the main license model supported by most payment providers. But not all products can be forced into a subscription model.
18th August 2020
Software Licensing Provider

What Your Software Licensing Provider Isn’t Telling You

All software licensing providers say they’re good. But are they, really? Find out as we examine the pain licensing providers may be causing to your company.
5th June 2020
Identity based licensing by 10Duke

What is Identity-based Licensing?

Identity-based licensing is a method by 10Duke of controlling access to a digital product based on the authenticated identity of an individual.
6th May 2020
Alternative to FLEXlm

Alternative to FlexNet Licensing (FLEXlm)

Comparison between 10Duke Entitlements vs. Flexera’s Flexnet.
Schedule a Demo