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Just A reminder…

May 2, 2012 Leave a comment

I just wanted to remind everyone that we have moved. Please come check us out at http://www.sysmincomputing.com. Since we are no longer updating this site, you’ll want to update your bookmarks. Come see our latest how to’s, news posts, and other articles at our new website (past posts have been migrated over as well)!

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Registering a Copyright in the United States

July 8, 2010 Leave a comment

When it comes to intellectual property law, there are some things that are just too complicated to do yourself (anyone who’s been involved in writing claims for a software patent or license knows what I mean). You may be surprised to hear, however, that registering a copyright is one of the few things that the average Joe (or Jill) can do without a team of lawyers to back him or her up. In this article, I will explain some of the basics of what a copyright is, why you should register one, and how easy it is to do it.

What is a copyright and how do I get one?

Chances are, if you can write, type, paint, sketch, take pictures with a camera, or operate a video/audio recorder, you probably own a copyright. In fact, there are only two major requirements to owning a copyright on a specific work*:

  1. It must be an original work (i.e. you didn’t copy someone else).
  2. The work must be “fixed in a tangible medium.” Basically, the moment you write the work down on paper, save it in a computer, paint it on a canvas, take a picture, post it online, etc., you’ve met this requirement.

If you’ve met these two requirements, then you automatically receive a copyright for that work. No boxtops need to be mailed in. No proof of purchase needed. Congrats, you are a copyright owner!

So if I already have a copyright, why should I register one?

At this point, you’ve probably realized that you own more copyrights than you ever imagined and are wondering what they’re good for. Basically a copyright gives you, the original creator of a work, the legal right to copy, distribute, and adapt that work. If someone tries to infringe upon your copyright, you also have the legal right to seek compensation for any damages incurred. You receive these rights automatically, and they are considered legal and binding whether or not you choose to register your copyright.
So if you receive these rights automatically upon qualifying for a copyright, why should you bother registering it? Well, in addition to these basic rights granted to copyright owners, registering comes with a few added benefits:

  1. Registering establishes a definitive date that can be used to prove a material as originally being yours.
  2. If a copyright is registered BEFORE an infringement, it entitles you to statutory damages and attorney’s fees if you win in court (without a prior registration, you are due only actual damages incurred). Also, you cannot file an infringement suit until you register your copyright.
  3. A copy of your work is stored in the Library of Congress. This means that even if your original work was somehow destroyed or lost, you can be sure that it isn’t lost from the world.

It is important to also note, that registering a copyright is a fairly easy and inexpensive process. Currently, it costs $35 to register your copyright electronically, $50 if you choose to register using the Fill-In Form CO, and $65 if you decide to use the old-fashioned paper forms. This means that the average person can receive a great deal of added protection for a very reasonable amount of money.

OK, you’ve convinced me, but how do I register my copyright?

There are three basic steps to registering a copyright:

  1. Complete the application
  2. Pay the filing fee**
  3. Submit a copy of your work

Unless you are terrified of technology (and I highly doubt you would be reading this blog post if you were) I highly recommend registering your copyright online through the U.S. Copyright Office’s website (http://www.copyright.gov).*** There are several advantages to filing electronically:

  • Filing online is cheaper.
  • Your application is processed faster than if you file using paper forms.
  • In many cases, you can submit a digital copy of your work to the Library of Congress instead of mailing a physical copy.**** This will save you time, postage, and the cost of printing an extra copy of your work.
  • After submitting your claim, you can check on its status by loging into eCo and clicking on the blue case number associated with your claim in the “Open Cases” table.

In order to file electronically, you will need an email address. Your email will not be made available to the public record. If you don’t have an email address, you can get one from one of several online email services for free:

Once you have an email address, simply go to http://www.copyright.gov/eco/ and click on “Electronic Copyright Office” next to “Login to eCO.” Then just fill in the information requested. Upon filling out the form, you will then be asked to pay the $35 registration fee and submit a copy of your work (you will be given the option of either printing out an address label for mailing in your work, or to submit a copy of your work electronically). Once those three steps are complete, the U.S. Copyright Office will process your application, and upon determining that you’ve met the aforementioned requirements for owning a copyright, will approve your registration.

Notes:

* It is important to note that the word “work” is used here, because things like processes and methodologies cannot be copyrighted (stuff like that is covered under different types of Intellectual Property Law.
** Filing fees are paid online through a government website called Pay.gov (http://www.pay.gov).
*** While most modern web browsers can be used to file electronically, currently Safari and Chrome are not certified as being compatible with the online registration application. Sorry Mac users, but let’s face it, you should be using a better web browser than Safari anyway.
****A list of supported file types for uploading your work can be found at http://www.copyright.gov/eco/help-file-types.html.

Additional Information:

Using Open Source Code in Proprietary Software

December 3, 2009 Leave a comment

As mentioned by several others here, it really depends on the license. Some allow you to use their code in proprietary software without problems, some require you to at least include only the open source code that you used, and some require you to declare the entire program as open source. I personally love open source code, but it is important to understand that it often comes with strings attached to it.

While it may be tedious, there is no substitution for reading and understanding its license before you use the code. I can’t stress this enough! The license attached to open source code is a legally binding contract that’s main purpose is to grant you permission to use the code without violating the owner’s copyright. If you can’t meet the conditions specified in the license, then using that code is considered a copyright violation and can prevent you from distributing your software.

You also have to remember that if the code you are using has two or more licenses attached to it (or you are using code from different open source projects under different licenses), you have to make sure you can fulfill the requirements mentioned in ALL of those licenses to be able to distribute your program after using the open source code. This can get sometimes be difficult since there is a long list of open source licenses out there, each with their own terms and conditions.

The bottom line is that open source code is really cool and can be very useful to a software developer, but if you need code with no strings attached, your best option may be to write your own.

Note: This article is taken from an answer I gave in response to a question on the site called StackOverflow.com. To see the original posting and other peoples’ answers, click here.

Categories: Legal, Technology

Proposed Changes to Software Copyright Law (§ 117)

October 19, 2009 Leave a comment

Since the creation of section 117 by CONTU in 1978, computer software and the way it is used has been constantly evolving. Due to current legislation, licensing, and archival practices, portions of section 117 have become outdated and are in need of revision. In this proposal, I will seek to identify two of these outdated elements and suggest modifications in order to better address current and future computing practices.

The first necessary revision to section 117 would be in regards to the current requirement that a copyrighted program be deleted from all archives “in the event that continued possession of the computer program should cease to be rightful.” When CONTU wrote this portion of software copyright law, their concern was two-fold:

  1. CONTU wanted to ensure that an owner be able to use and protect their software from damage or loss without fear of breaking copyright, and

  2. when an owner ceases to rightfully possess a program, he or she cannot simply extract and use a copy of the program from a previously made archive in order to avoid violating copyright law.

While CONTU’s purpose for this requirement is sound, it does not match the current reality of computer archiving. Most archived copies made from computer systems involve copying a series of folders or even drives into one compressed file rather than making copies one program at a time. In order to remove a program that is no longer rightfully owned from a collection of archives, one would either need to individually extract, modify, and compress each archive containing the program, or destroy all infringing archives completely if they are stored on read-only material (such as a CD or DVD). This makes it difficult, if not completely impractical for the owner of a system to fully comply with current copyright law. In order to address this problem, I suggest the following changes*:

(2) that such new copy or adaptation is for archival purposes only and that all archival copies are destroyed in the event that continued possession of the computer program should cease to be rightful, any copy of the program made from an archive must be destroyed immediately without first being used or recopied.

This revision results in three changes to section 117 that maintains the spirit of the old law, while better complying with modern computing practices. First, this revision addresses the aforementioned problem of destroying copies of programs in archives by removing the unreasonable requirement completely. Second, it recognizes that when an archive is used to restore lost or damaged data, often either all missing files and programs in the archive are restored, or the entire contents of the archive are copied back onto the system. Since this process is necessary to restore lost or damaged data and often occurs automatically, it may inadvertently result in the copying of a program that is no longer rightfully owned onto a system, even though no copyright violation is intended. In order to both protect a person from an accidental violation and ensure archives cannot be used to subvert the aforementioned purpose of this subsection, the third change states that he or she is not violating section 117 if the copy is immediately destroyed before using or recopying it.

These revisions do not violate the purpose of software copyright since section 101 defines a computer program as “a set of statements or instructions to be used directly or indirectly in a computer in order to bring about a certain result.”** Since an archived copy of a program that is not rightfully owned is unable to be used until it has been extracted and copied onto a computer, its existence within the archive should not violate copyright law. Instead, the violation should occur when that program is extracted from the archive with the intent to use it. Thus the aforementioned changes to this subsection will cause section 117 to better reflect the realities of computer archiving, while ensuring that these archived copies cannot be used to circumvent software copyright.

The second part of section 117 that needs to be revised is the use of the term “owner” in this section. During the case MAI Systems Corp. v. Peak Computer, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals declared that licensees of a computer program “do not qualify as ‘owners’,” and are therefore “not eligible for protection under section 117.” Thus when congress changed the wording of section 117 to read “owner” in the place of “rightful possessor,” it inadvertently created a loophole where licensees of software are not guaranteed the same rights to run and archive their software. While such a case may be unlikely, the current wording of section 117 would allow the distributor of a license to claim a user is infringing copyright simply by running or archiving their licensed software. Since the majority of modern-day software is distributed under a license agreement, most software users currently receive little or no protection from such unreasonable claims.

The reason congress chose to use the term “owner” rather than “rightful possessor” as originally intended by CONTU is unclear, although some speculate that it was to prevent people from borrowing or renting software and leaving a copy on their system after returning it. Such a concern has been more recently addressed when congress passed the Computer Software Rental Amendments Act into law in 1990, which limited the “first sale” provision of section 109 in relation to software rentals. Because of this clarifying legislation, using the word “owner” in an attempt to prevent copyright circumvention through software rentals is no longer necessary.

Because the term “owner” does not contribute any additional protection to software licensees, nor does it prevent additional copyright infringement, the original term “rightful possessor” should replace the term “owner.” By using the term “rightful possessor,” licensees would be afforded the same rights of using and archiving their software as owners currently receive. In addition to granting licensees the same rights with respect to software use that owners enjoy, this new wording would not prevent restrictions regarding the distribution and use of software from being imposed through a license agreement. Since the distributor of a licensed software program generally intends for it to be used by the licensee anyway, this change of terminology will not result in any unreasonable limitations to what a license can contain.

By removing the requirement to destroy all archived copies of a program and shifting focus to deleting unauthorized copies after restoring an archive, the language of section 117 will better reflect the realities of modern archival methods. Furthermore, the former issues with using the term “owner” in conjunction with the licensing practices of most software distributors would be resolved with the re-adoption of the term “rightful possessor.” These two simple changes to section 117 will ensure that software copyright law will better reflect the realities of modern computer archiving and software use, while respecting the need for software distributors to impose additional restrictions via licensing.


*Original wording of section 117 is in black, new wording is in blue, words that have been removed have a line through them.

**Emphasis added.

Categories: Legal, Technology Tags: , ,