How does software copyright protect Intellectual Property?

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For an artist, protecting their work is a matter of paramount importance. After all, any work of art, be it a literary piece, a musical, or a painting, needs protection from unlawful elements looking to infringe upon the creator's rights. But what about computer software? Since 1979, software source code is considered to be a creation of the mind and is thus protected by copyright. So, how can software be protected? Is copyright the best approach to software IP protection? How do I get software copyright protection? This article guides you through the complexities of software IP and source code copyright.

How can software be protected
Why and how to protect Software copyright
Table of contents

Programmers and software developers may be experts in their scientific domain, but ask any of them, and they will let you know that software development is as much an art as it is a science. After all, when a team of coders creates software, it is nothing short of a creative synergy that emanates from them. So, if software code is an expression of the coder's creativity, how can it be protected?

That's where software copyright comes in. Copyright law protects all artistic expressions, and computer software falls under this purview. That's why it is important for all programmers and developers to have a clear idea of how to protect software using copyright.

Before understanding how to get software copyrights, it is important to understand what it is in the first place. To put it simply, software copyright refers to the use of national and international copyright laws to protect the developer's source code. Copyright laws differ from country to country, but the essence in most cases remains the same.

Algorithms or the logic behind a software tool are not patentable, so you won't be able to file an application for a patent. But the expression of the idea, i.e., the source code of the program, can come under copyright protection. In general, a programmer automatically gets the copyright of any code they create, and this extends for 70 years in most cases. However, the extent of the copyright remains only in the code; the idea behind it can not come under intellectual property protection.

So, now you know what software copyright is and how it works in most cases. But why should you go through the trouble of protecting your software with copyright?

Software is unique in the sense that it can not work without being copied. For a software program to run, it must be copied from any tertiary memory device to the system's primary memory. This itself is an unavoidable act of copying.

However, such copying is not considered a crime as it is essential for the software to function. The problem arises when the software code is copied by a third party that aims to gain from such copying. Not only direct copying but the adaptation of software code into another computer programming language may also fall under copyright infringement.

To prevent this from happening, software developers and publishers distribute their software under different licenses. Despite that, any computer user knows that software piracy is currently a multi-billion dollar industry. The moment a new software application is created, hundreds of copycats surface, often with similar names and functionalities.

So, if you intend to protect your software against intellectual property theft, then it is essential that you know how to protect software using copyright.

Protect your software copyrigh with Vaultinum

1. Effective ownership rights

Let's face it: software takes time and resources to develop. So, it is only natural that the creators will want to protect the final product against intellectual property theft. After all, the code that you've written might be the only way to solve a particular problem. In case other developers get unfettered access to it, they can use it in any way without your permission.

 This is where copyright comes in. When you get copyright protection for your software, this means you're in complete control of the code's ownership rights. Other developers cannot use the code without your permission. In this way, you exercise effective control over your creation.

2. Worldwide declaration

As we've already mentioned before, the moment your code's in the compiler, you're entitled to its copyright. Materializing copyright protection for your software is tantamount to declaring to the world that you're the owner of the code. At this point, no one can get away with unauthorized copying of your code.

3. Makes it easier to claim damages

If you're filing a lawsuit against another party for copyright infringement, then legal copyright makes it easier to claim damages. Today, given the easy methods for software distribution, claims can be as high as hundreds of thousands of dollars. Winning such claims is made easy with copyright.

4. You don't have to worry about patents

In most countries, the law doesn't allow the software to be patentable. In such a case, copyright laws are your only method to protect your software from unlawful use. What's more, copyrighted software can give you better terms in different licensing agreements. These are only some of the benefits that you can get from copyrighting software. At the same time, it's essential to know in what ways your software copyrights can be infringed. That's what we're going to touch upon in the next section.

1. End user license piracy

Most software is distributed under specific End User License Agreements (EULA). End-user license piracy occurs when end-users violate the terms of this license. This can take many forms, such as using unlicensed software or using more copies of the software than the user is licensed to use.

2. Loading hard disks

This form of infringement takes place when PCs are sold with unlicensed software preloaded. Many dealers also buy one legal license but make illegal copies of it for multiple uses.

3. Counterfeiting software

This is the most common form of software copyright infringement, where a duplicate copy or sham replica of software is sold purporting to be the original software.

4. Pirated distribution over the Internet

Nothing new needs to be said about online software piracy, where illegal copies of software are placed on third-party servers. These can be downloaded for free in most cases.

How can you protect your software Intellectual Property?

So, if there's one thing clear from the above discussion, it's this: software is protected by copyright laws, whereas inventions, even those that use the software, are protected by patents. Of course, the details of such protection vary from country to country, with some regions granting patents for software ideas as well.

 Now, the question arises: if software copyrighting is an automatic process and your source code is your own, then why do you need to worry about copyrighting the software in the first place.

The truth is, the problem is deeper than you'd think at first glance. Today, the most valuable businesses in the world are technology companies. Be it Google, Apple, Microsoft, or Samsung, technology is the end-all be-all of the 21st century. Even traditional businesses are massively reliant on technological solutions for running their day-to-day operations.

And wherever there's technology, there's software. And wherever there is software, there are lawsuits. We don't really pay much attention to these aspects when using technology, but major corporations today are fighting legal battles over the ownership of code. As one business creates software, very soon thereafter, others will emulate the functionality and come out with similar tools. Since ideas can not be patented, the question of rightful ownership arises.

how can software be protected

But why is code ownership such a messy concept? Ask any coder, and they will tell you that coding itself is a messy and complicated process. At the same time, it is rarely an isolated process where a single genius comes up with a groundbreaking piece of code. Instead, coding and software development is a collaborative process, where many experts come together to create functional code.

And herein lies the problem. What if a developer working in your organization leaves and joins a competitor and shares some parts of the code they've created while in your employ? This is a direct violation of your intellectual property rights and can have immense financial ramifications.

In another scenario, several competing businesses might be working to find the solution to the same problem. Even more, these businesses can often come up with similar solutions and try to market them. Who, then, gets the benefit of being the prime mover?

This question needs to be settled by an independent third party, who can verify which code was created and deployed first. This might be very tough to establish without the help of timestamp-based records.

And that's where Vaultinum comes into play.

How Vaultinum can help you

Think of Vaultinum as the digital equivalent of a photo finish. Just as racers decide who the winner is among close contenders with a photo finish, Vaultinum helps ascertain code ownership.

How does it work? The process is simple: when you create a piece of code, you can register it with Vaultinum through our deposit solution.

A deposit is a solution which is recognized in court that allows software developers, digital innovators and database owners to prove the ownership of their creation and secure their intellectual property rights.

When you upload your source code, Vaultinum timestamps it to prove the existence of this code at this particular point in time. Once your code is registered, you can then rely on the Vaultinum certificate to verify and establish your ownership over the code.

What's more, when you're registering your source code with Vaultinum, we also offer to provide escrow agreements that will increase your chances of securing of deals with clients, through the reassurance of client access in the event of supplier failure.

Software development professionals can have peace of mind knowing that with our services, their creative rights will be protected. At Vaultinum, we work with the best techno-legal professionals to protect your software rights.

10 minutes. That's all it takes to create an account, upload the files, and obtain a certificate as proof of your deposit. Talk to us today, you won't regret it.

Contact us
Kristin Avon Senior Legal Officer Vaultinum
Kristin A.Kristin is a registered US attorney specializing in the areas of IP and technology law. She is a member of Vaultinum’s Strategy and Legal Commissions charged with overseeing and implementing the policies and processes related to the protection of digital assets.

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