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Re: Flavors, Symbolics, and MIT

I have been informed by well-known computer scientist who has had some legal
dealings that the following is true of the legal status of  software (I have
no legal expertise myself, nor does my informant for that matter; I would
not advise anyone to go to court based on the following, although it
personally makes sense to me):

Software is governed by copyright law, which means that it is owned by the
AUTHOR, period (This precedent is almost universally recognized
internationally, with the possible exception of Australia and a few other
countries.  The Japanese are considering legislation that would result in
not recognizing such protection - American trade negotiators consider this
scandalous.  Tell that to your university lawyer who thinks he can make up
his own rules on the matter).  Of course, it is possible for an author to
sign away rights to copyrightable material on a contractual basis.  For
example, you can contract with a publisher to reproduce and sell your book.
In addition, you can make an explicit contract with an organization to give
them rights to something you are going to produce.  For example, it is
possible that both the federal government and a university may require
researchers to sign an agreement explicitly giving them rights to all
products of that research (such an agreement might have been in the small
print of the contract that the principal investigator signed for the
university to process the contract, or in the work agreement between a
student r.a. and the university, etc.).

However, it is NOT the case that a university (or anyone else) can make you
sign away copyrights in a blanket manner (i. e., such agreements are illegal
and non-binding).  In particular, the University definitely CANNOT
rightfully claim ownership to a piece of software by virtue of the fact that
you produced it using their facilities.  They might just as well claim that
they are entitled to the royalties from your books, which were written in
their offices and using their typewriters, etc. (Needless to say, they are
very clearly not entitled to such royalties).

Universities do indeed make such (legally absurd) claims to software.  They
talk about ``university policy'' on these matters.  Fortunately,
universities are not free to make ``policy'' on murder, rape, property or
taxation, or other matters governed by our criminal and civil legal system.
Anyone who has let a university ``share'' the product of his or her mind has
therefore given away property that is rightfully theirs, whether they did so
voluntarily, or under duress.

A corrollary to all this is that you should stick your own name and
copyright on the software you write.  If a university complains, you are
free to suggest that they stick their head where the sun don't shine.  Of
course, they may harass you, for example, by suing you, in spite of the
ridiculousness of their complaint.

As for MACSYMA, if the various researchers and employees who worked on
MACSYMA signed explicit agreements giving away their copyrights of products
they were going to produce on a particular contract, then the product may
indeed belong to someone other than them.  If not, then it's theirs.