Current Copyright And Patent Laws: Weak And Ineffective Essay, Research Paper
The world of today is drastically different from that of twenty years ago. Ideas, life, and technology have changed in many ways. Computers and software have developed significantly since the start of the computer revolution. From the first computer, software has become more important. Our lives all revolve around computers and software. People use them to make math easier with calculators, and use them to withdraw money on the go with ATM machines. However, even with all the technological help that has presented in the past few decades, software and the people who write it barely protected by law. Current copyright and patent laws are not strong enough to protect programmers’ rights, and they even slow down software development and reduce competition; software is not a physical thing and by nature completely defenseless, as it is more or less simply intellectual property, and thus, is very easily copied.
There are two categories of intellectual property. The first one is composed of writing, music, and film, which are covered by copyright. Patents cover inventions and innovations (Bassinger 24-28). These two categories have safely covered many kinds of work, with little or no conflict for years. For example, Susan Willis described Disney World’s strict policy on photography in her essay, “Disney World: Public Use/Private State:”
“The merchandise, the costumes, the scenery ?V all is either stamped with the Disney logo or Covered by copyright legislation?K it is impossible to photograph at Disney World without running the risk of infringing a Disney copyright,” and “the only thing that saves the average family from a lawsuit is that most don’t use their vacation photos as a means for making profit” (Willis 751).
Unfortunately, it is not that easy when dealing with such a complex matter such as computer software. For example, there is a program that can perform specific tasks?Xcreating, editing, deleting, and formatting texts?Xsuch as Microsoft Word. Before, the program could be used to do those specific jobs; the program is in the text format that is just like an essay with strange form. Therefore, when something is typed on a computer, it is considered writing, as it is all written words and numbers. However, when executed by the computer, it functions like an invention, performing a specific task as instructed by the user. Thus, software falls into both categories (Salone 25).
As illustrate above, software can either fall into the categories of copyrights or patent laws; therefore, there is no perfect protection for software and its programmers. “Copyright law in the US is derived from English copyright law (Statute of Anne) and common law,” which “Congress subsequently enacted the Copyright Act [in] 1790 and major revisions to it in 1831, 1870, 1909, and 1976″ (Doty). “Most copyrights in works published after January 1, 1978 are good for the life of the author plus 50 years,” and which can be renewed (Salone 57-58). “Patents last only 17 years, but cannot be renewed” (Borenstein 22). With technology advancing so quickly, it is not necessary to maintain the protection of the software for the length of the copyright, but also, it is sometimes necessary to renew them (Del Guercio 22-24)?Xthe tenth sequel of Final Fantasy in a video game series, for instance. With copyrighted material, programmers are able to write software similar to others’, so long as the programming code is their own, and not borrowed from the others (Del Guercio 22-24). This keeps the industry competitive, and thus results in better software. With patents, on the other hand, no one is allowed to create software that performs similar functions (Del Guercio 22-24). For example, AutoCAD and TrueSpace 2 are two 3D modeling programs. TrueSpace 2 would be a violation of patent laws because it performs a very similar task to AutoCADs, which came first. Luckily for us, CAD programs are not new, they have been around for more than ten years, and no one thought to patent them.
Current patent law causes stagnation of software development since law’s ability is to prevent other similar programs in the marketplace. The ability to patent new and non-obvious software would therefore cause serious problems. The latest new technology such as optical-tracing 3D engines, anti-virus software, and new Internet exploring fads can be patented. This would mean that only one company can use this program and other companies that wanted to use this software would have to pay a large sum of money for the rights. Also, patent hearings are conducted over a period of three years, and it is not necessary to announce a patent hearing to the public (Del Guercio 22-24). For example, company ‘a’ might create a software package and then apply for a patent. Company ‘b’ may create even better software, which does a similar task as the software created by company ??a’ during that period, and might become quite successful. However, the patent is given to company ‘a’ first, who promptly sues company ‘b’ for stealing this innovation. In brief, patent regulations would stagnate the computer industry because company ‘b’ cannot retaliate by making better software. There is an example of this unfair jurisdiction of patent law from Lotus software. When the patenting of software became acceptable in the early 90’s, Lotus closed up their R&D departments and called in a bunch of lawyers to get them patents on all their programming techniques (Del Guercio 22-24). Ever since then, the company has been selling out the rights as its primary business.
Current patent laws also make it more costly to develop new software such as new input software to replace mouse devices. However, the mouse is not going to be replaced in a short period of time, but in the future, something undoubtedly will replace the mouse as the preferred method of input. For instance, in what may be a virtual reality future, the glove might be the input device. Consequently, if this input device is replaced for the mouse, in that case every single program that uses mouse support would have to pay a fee for the right to do so. This would result in higher software prices, which many believe are already too high, and reduced quality in the programs (Del Guercio 22-24). Needless to say, the patenting of software is not a widely loved policy, and is mostly embraced only by large corporations like Lotus and Microsoft (NacCracken 21) because it enables these big companies to make more money.
As shown above, there are many problems could be caused by the shortages of current copyright and patent laws. Currently, software copying is generally considered a copy of the original code such as when a backup of software is created as well as when people load a program into their computer?Xa copy of that program will go into their computer’s memory. While the copy does not stay indefinitely, it does stay long enough to perform a certain task, and can be looked upon as a form of software piracy (NacCracken 25). BBS (Bulletin Board Systems) are small online services run by individual system operators, who are legally considered responsible for all the files that are available on their system (Elkin-Koren 1). At first this seems like an obvious duty, ; however, if people have ever run a BBS before, they would know that maintaining their Web site and knowing what is on the computer is difficult. Sega Ltd., maker of the Sega Genesis and Sega GameGear, sued the Maphia BBS for making Sega Genesis ROMs publicly available in a download section. This section was a type of “digital rental,” which enables public downloads, and the downloaded software is required to be deleted after a short period of time from 24 to 48 hours. Unfortunately, Maphia BBS did not have a disclaimer stating that the files must be deleted after a trial of period. Thus, Sega was able to sue Maphia BBS for this negligence; because without the disclaimer, there was no proof that they were not using this download system for monetary purposes. Of course, it could be used for that purpose even with the disclaimer. But the disclaimer does just that by renouncing the BBS operator of the responsibilities of that software copy (Elkin-Koren). Another example was the case between Playboy and the Frena BBS. The public file areas on the Frena BBS frequently contained image files, and more often, these images were adult image files. Playboy somehow found out that this BBS had some scanned photos from a Playboy magazine, and because they have the copyright to all their photos, they were able to sue the operator of the Frena BBS. The operator had no idea that there were any Playboy images on his system (Elkin-Koren). Although it is hard to distinguish the purpose of copying software, the end result is that companies that produce software could not develop.
Individual copied software does not enable software industries to grow, as companies would lose money if everyone can have a copy of software for free. The industry compensates for this problem of piracy by inflating the price of their product. This in turn, results in a chain reaction among programmers, who lose their job in market place (Elkin-Koren). Copyrights and patents are designed to protect software, but in the case of technology, it’s actually hindering it. A CD contains a lot of information, and is the perfect media for storage. In more advanced storage media is the Digital Video Disc, or DVD, which is much more versatile, and contains 26 times the storage capacity of a CD, and 11500 times more (about 17 gigabytes) than a standard floppy disk. Moreover, a CD and a DVD have one more advantage over all the portable storage media?Xit can contain the same quality of its original. Dubbed tapes are easy to copy with; however, a CD and a DVD are often higher quality because there is always a bit of degradation in the copies. With a CD and a DVD, a copy has exactly the same quality as the original with no degradation. Consequently, consumers would buy the copies instead of paying more for the original. All the big companies are scared by this technology, as this technology threatens the financial security of the companies. DVDs would be one of the greatest advancements in the short history of computers, but because of the shadier uses, several companies are developing copy protection schemes for its software. Macrovision, for instance, is producing hardware for the DVD player that will make them incompatible with VCRs. It will send output through the audio/video out ports that when played on a TV, will appear normal, but when played through a VCR, will have color stripes running sideways across the screen. This is due to the differences between the ways the DVD and tapes work (Ross 134-140). Accordingly, these individual copied software would not help companies to sell their originals, and as a result, companies would not have enough budget to hire more programmers to improve their software or develop new plan.
Since the current copyright laws regarding the protection of intellectual material cannot effectively protect software, they are either too weak or too strict; for that reason, we need a new category of protection. “The perfect patent law would most likely last for 10 years and would be renewable” (Del Guercio 22-24). The deadline of a patent material should be long enough to protect a program for as long as it is still useful, and allow for sequels and new versions. It would also have to allow for others to make similar software, keeping the industry competitive; but it would have to protect against others copying portions of the software.
Thus, one may safely conclude that there is a need for change in the current copyright system. It is obvious that the current methods of protecting software are a hindrance on the software industry. Changing the law would, of course, take time and money–it would be a tremendous hassle for Congress to have a new law written just to cover the information superhighway; but not to change the laws would end up costing much more, as per the examples above. While at first the problems associated with changing the laws might seem to outweigh the benefits, the argument could be made that with new laws, the industry would be able to keep the benefits and minimize any drawbacks. Instead of having to nitpick over who created a property that was similar to something else, the new laws would focus on which properties are innately more powerful; indeed, that is what the industry is all about, competition between creative efforts.