Computer Programs, Generally

All computer programs and data bases come under the purview of “literary works” for purposes of the Copyright Act of 1976.  The Copyright Act was amended in 1980 by the Computer Software Protection Act.  This Act defined 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.  This established the copyrightability of computer programs.  Under the Copyright Act, a computer program is a “work of authorship” entitled to protection.

Copyrighted software contains various elements that are copyrighted and certain other functional elements that are not protected by copyright.  According to the law, those portions of a computer program that are ideas cannot be protected under copyright law.  However, those portions representing the resulting expression can be protected.

Copyright protection extends to the instructions in a computer program’s operating system and to the instructions in an application computer program.  The protection under copyright law can be extended outside the programs’ literal code to the program’s structure, sequence, and organization.

Copyright protection under the law does not extend to –

  • Ideas stored in a computer manufacturer’s graphical user interface (GUI),
  • Use of Windows to display multiple images on a computer screen and to facilitate user interaction,
  • Manipulation of icons to convey instructions and to control the operation of the computer,
  • Use of menus to store information or computer functions, and
  • Opening and closing of objects as a means to retrieve, transfer, and store information.

Inside Computer Programs, Generally