Software and Copyright Issues on the Internet

The development of Copyright law is one of the most important issues facing the growth of the Internet. The Internet provides a medium of commerce for unprecedented business opportunities. Within that medium, however, the opportunity for theft and misuse of intellectual property can be rampant. As such, the evolution of the body of law underlying the primary tenets of copyright law has become paramount.
Clearly, a great deal of the data transmitted through the Internet falls within the spectrum of what can be referred to as works of authorship which include works such as movies, software, animation, musical and other forms of multimedia and audiovisual works. In order to transmit these works, data protected by copyright law requires a form of copying in order to be sent through the Internet medium. Herein lies the very simple element of the medium which brings about the complications inherent between the use of the Internet and copyright protection.
At its heart, copyright law was enacted to prohibit the unauthorized copying and distribution of works protected by copyright law. In the past, prior to a great deal of the explosion in technology we have seen in recent years, it was generally very easy to determine when a work was copied in violation of the statute. Today, however, through the use of the Internet medium, it is a much more complicated analysis. In order to transfer information through the Internet, the information is sent in particles. Similar to the operation of software, these particles of information then move through the Random Access Memory (RAM) of various computers. Whether or not this very element of the passage of information through the RAM of a computer constitutes copyright infringement remains a disputed issue. Put simply, the Federal Courts have split on the issue. Nevertheless, some basic elements apply in the analysis of copyright infringement on both the Internet and in the use and reproduction of software.

Work Made for Hire

Copyright protection follows from the time the work is created in fixed form. The copyright in the work of authorship immediately becomes the property of the individual who created the work. Only the author or those deriving their rights through the author can rightfully claim copyright. In the case of works made for hire, the employer and not the employee is considered to be the author. Section 101 of the copyright law defines a "work made for hire" as:

(1) a work prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment; or (2) a work specially ordered or commissioned for use as:
a contribution to a collective work;
a part of a motion picture or other audiovisual work
a translation
a supplementary work
a compilation
an instructional text
a test
answer material for a test
a sound recording
an atlas

If the parties expressly agree in a written instrument signed by them that the work shall be considered a work made for hire....
The authors of a joint work are co-owners of the copyright in the work, unless there is an agreement to the contrary.


While copyright protection exists from the time the expression of the work becomes created, you cannot pursue a claim for copyright infringement unless you have registered the work with the US Copyright Office. There is an exhaustive list of different forms of applications that vary depending upon the type of work to be protected. In order to properly file the application, you should consult an attorney who specializes in copyright law. If you fail to file the application and someone copies your work without your permission, it may be very difficult to find any remedy at law for the infringement. The two most frequently filed copyright applications are currently for software and web site protection. It is imperative to seek protection for these types of works because it is so easy for potential infringers to steal this material. (Source: US Copyright Office). See Protecting Your Work

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