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Franz Flavors & software copyright

[Usual disclaimer: I am not a lawyer and this is not legal counsel.  I
have simply bothered to read a lot of the law, including the case law,
regarding copyright in general and software copyright in particular.]

Bob Wilensky's note is not too far off the mark, but there are some
important complications and exceptions programmers should aware of
befored they assume that whatever they write is theirs.  In particular,
the statement that

	"Software is governed by copyright law, which means that it is
	owned by the AUTHOR, period"

is technically correct but misleading, since the legal interpretation
of "author" is unintuitive: if you do programming for a company for a
living, for example, and you write a program as a part of your normal
duties in fulfilling that job's requirements, then according to the law
the *company* is the "author" of that program, not you.  The rationale
for this appears in Wilensky's note, in fact: it is considered that you
contracted away your right of copy over the works you produce when
you took that job.

It is true that all recent attempts on the part of universities to
claim copyright over, for example, professors' lectures, have failed.
If you are employed by your university to write programs, however,
things are not so convenient.  Further, while the law specifically
states that works written by U.S. government-funded employees are in
the public domain and thus not copyrightable, Federal funding is common
for universities, which makes things interestingly fuzzy.  I know of no
case law deciding the issue of copyright ownership for, say, NSF-funded
works.  Universities having been ignoring this as much as possible for
the last several years, and to my knowledge they have been entirely
successful (that is, there have been no court challenges of the obvious
sort).  I expect this sort of case to appear in the courts within the
next couple of years.  (Incidentally, a couple times a year I hear some
cretin claim that "public domain is an obsolete idea".  Don't you bet
on it.  It's right there in the latest copyright law.)

There are numerous further complexities and subtleties that should be
understood by anyone who intends to copyright their work.  (Things that
deserve more  detailed treatment include "works made for hire", implied
vs. express contractual arrangements when you are "commissioned" for a
work, "derivative works", and "utilitarian works", which may turn out
to be an especially interesting area of case law regarding software
over the next couple years.)  If you want more information and can't
afford a lawyer, I would recommend that you at least read one of the
copyright books now available.  NOTE: It should be post-1978, since the
"1976" copyright law changed a lot of important things, especially
concerning computer software.


p.s. I copyright everything I write that isn't written directly for
     my employer in the normal course of my duties at work.  You can
     always change your mind later.  All you have to do to copyright
     a program is put the line at the top:

	Copyright (C) 1984 <Your full name>

     You CAN, but NEED NOT, register it with the government; it is
     covered by the law the moment you write the above line into it.