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13C copying: computer programs

Where to Look in the Law

1909 Act: Not mentioned (nor relevant)
1947 Act: Not mentioned
1976 Act: §117; effective November 8, 1984: also §§901-914

CFR: § 201.24 Warning of copyright for software lending by nonprofit libraries.

Copyright Office Publications for Laymen

Circular 61 “Copyright Registration for Computer Programs”
Circular 65 “Copyright Registration for Automated Databases”
Circular 100 “Federal Statutory Protection for Mask Works”
FL 108 “Games”

“October 28, 1998[:] The Digital Millennium Copyright Act … limited certain online infringement liability for Internet service providers; created an exemption permitting a temporary reproduction of a computer program made by activating a computer in the course of maintenance or repair”  (Information Circular 1a)

What the Courts Ruled


Computer Associates International, Inc. vs Altai, Inc.

USCA 2nd Cir. (6-22-1992, amended 12-17-1992) ¤ 982 F.2d 693, 37 Fed. R. Evid. Serv. 348

In judging whether Altai’s computer program Oscar 3.4 infringed Computer Associates’ program CA-Scheduler, the court used an “abstraction-filtration-comparison” procedure, a three-part test to analyze non-literal infringement claims in computer software.  The technical nature of this test puts it outside the scope of this web site.  Persons interested in infringement criteria as it relates to computer software should find it worthwhile to read the text of the decision, which is available online at BitLaw (link:  This case has a reasonable discussion of how this test works.


Engineering Dynamics, Inc. vs Structural Software, Inc.

USCA 5th Cir. for Eastern District of Louisiana (7-13-1994) ¤ 26 F.3d 1335

EDI sought “a judgment of copyright infringement against Structural Software, Inc. (SSI), a competitor who copied many of EDI’s input and output formats.  The parties primarily differ over the district court’s holding that computer input and output formats are not copyrightable and hence cannot infringe a copyright directly or as a derivative work… .

“Based upon the nature of the offshore structural engineering marketplace, SSI contends, EDI had to use the same or similar formats to those it chose in order to provide a compatible, standardized and efficient product for its customers.

The judgement notes that “the scope of protection afforded by a copyright is not constant across all literary works.  Infringement is far more likely to have occurred where a defendant has copied a memorable phrase from a short poem than where the defendant has copied an explanatory phrase from a voluminous textbook on biochemistry, because the law is more protective of highly original and highly expressive works than it is of functional and nonfiction works… .

“The district court found that the StruCAD manual infringed EDI’s copyright in its user manuals. This finding was based entirely on text, pictures, diagrams, illustrated examples, and flow charts depicted in the manuals, but not the input and output formats… .

“It is evident, however, that SSI’s help screens are not substantially similar to EDI’s copyrighted works. Although in many cases StruCAD’s help screens convey the same ideas and information as EDI’s user manuals, there is little verbatim copying of text. Naturally, many of EDI’s objections to StruCAD’s help screens are grounded in its objections to StruCAD’s re-creation of its input formats, to which the help screens usually refer… .

“The district court erred in concluding that EDI’s input formats and output reports, taken as a whole, may not qualify for copyright protection.”

User interface infringement is determined by industry standards.  (The Appeals Court remanded on this issue.)  The Court states that it applied the “abstraction-filtration-comparison” procedure, a three-part test to analyze non-literal infringement claims in computer software.  The details are outside the scope of this web site, so persons interested in how infringement cases involving computer programs might be decided should read a more comprehensive summary or the text of this decision, available online at BitLaw (




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