From Contract Law to Copyright

Doghouse – Copyright

Article from Issue 275/2023

The ideas about and methods for protecting software rights have evolved as computers have moved from expensive and relatively rare to far more affordable and ubiquitous.

Last month I touched briefly on an issue with trademarks, and this month I would like to continue the theme of intellectual property by talking about copyright.

As I normally do, I will go back in time to when computer software could not be copyrighted. In 1969, when I started programming, you would protect your programs (if you wanted to) by using contract law or "trade secrets" (or both).

Much of this was because computers were astronomically expensive by today's standards. Even the smallest of computers might cost more than $50,000 (and that was when $50,000 was a lot of money). Software, if you purchased it, was also expensive, and I remember purchasing a compiler from a company and paying $100,000 for a single copy of that compiler that would be used on a single computer to compile one program at a time. My company spent that money because the compiler would get a 10 percent performance improvement from the programs we compiled for our $2.5 million mainframe (and remember that I am talking about 1975 USD).


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