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Guidelines for Writing Software Copyright

by Adriana Iordan

What you need to know about software copyright

Software copyright is an important issue nowadays, with all the companies that invest serious amounts of money in developing applications that are meant to ease people's work. Therefore, if human and financial efforts are involved, it is only natural that any piece of software should be protected against unlawful use.

The solution for this thorny problem is writing the software copyright. Fail to do this, leave your product unprotected, and you may find sooner or later some other person boasting with all your hard work and taking all the credit (including, most likely, financial benefits).

A Definition

Copyright practically indicates the right of a certain individual or business entity to make copies of a particular work and use these copies according to wish or necessity. When it comes to software, it refers to the right to copy and use the respective software, or portions of it, according to some very well defined rules, while respecting the software author's intellectual rights on its work.

Software copyright is backed by the End User License Agreement (EULA), in which the user's rights regarding the software are strictly specified, as opposed to the rights of the legal and rightful owner of that particular software. The software copyright laws indicate that it is illegal for any other individual or business entity to run, copy, modify in any way or distribute a program without the express consent of the rightful owner.

Most of the times, this consent comes under the form of licenses, which mainly grant the right to use, with certain limitations, the software in cause. Copyright issues are usually mentioned within the EULA.

What You Need to Know About Software Copyright

The first and most important thing to know about copyright is that it only applies to written software and not to ideas behind it. Just because you had an idea or said something doesn't mean you are entitled to copyright. But, when you put your pen on the paper, (fingers on the keyboard, in our case) the result automatically becomes your property.

Technically, the author of the software code is the rightful owner of the copyright. When software is created by a company's employee during the official work hours and in keeping with the job description, the copyright automatically goes to the company.

But when software is created as a result to commissioned, specially ordered work, or by a company's employee outside the normal work hours or at a special request, additional documents have to be created in which it is clearly stated who is the rightful owner of the software, and, therefore, who can raise copyright claims.

If your software will be distributed (i.e. sold by retailers), then make sure you give the licensing section of the EULA as much attention as possible. This is where the information about software copyright is included.

It is crucial to state in your EULA:
NOTEThat the software is actually the property of company X / individual Y, and that what the user gets is only a license
NOTE That it is forbidden to copy, modify (either fully or partially), reverse-engineer or redistribute the software without the author's prior and express consent
NOTEThat the software is protected by copyright laws (and indicate the jurisdiction within which these laws apply)
NOTEThat it is imperative for any user that wishes to copy, modify in any way, distribute or use your software in a different manner than the one explicitly specified in the EULA, to contact the software author for permission(s), and that failure to do so falls under the incidence of the above-mentioned laws.

The Copyright

The visual representation of copyright usually comprises three elements: the symbol © (either accompanied by the term "copyright" or as standalone), the year when the program was created and also the name of the author (individual of business entity). The phrase "All rights reserved" may also be present.

Example: Copyright ©2007, Company XYZ / Individual's Name. All rights reserved.

It is also common practice that programmers include, in the "About" section of the software they've developed, a warning to the user about the laws that protect the program against misuse. This warning may look like this:

      Warning: This computer program is protected by copyright law
      and international treaties. Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this program,
     or any portion of it, may result in severe civil and criminal penalties,
     and will be prosecuted to the maximum extent.


Every time you create software, you have to make sure that all the hard work you've put into it is respected and that you get credit (as well as the deserved financial compensation) for your effort. A copyright clause added to your work, stating clearly what can and can't be done with your software, and by whom and with whose approval, will save you a lot of time spent later on in courts, and will protect you and your work from plagiarism or illegal copying, use or distribution.

It is of utmost importance that you give your software EULA a lot of thought, and even seek legal counsel for that matter, so that you don't leave any place for further interpretation. To paraphrase a well-known saying, "The worst statement is the one that is never stated".

Bear in mind that costs of lawsuits over copyright issues greatly exceed the cost that you would have incurred should you have thought beforehand about writing software copyright in such a way that no aspect ware left uncovered.

Adriana Iordan,
      Web Marketing Manager at Avangate B.V.


This article was written by Adriana Iordan, Web Marketing Manager at Avangate B.V. Copyright ©2007, www.avangate.com all rights reserved. Avangate is an eCommerce platform for electronic software distribution incorporating an easy to use and secure online payment system plus additional software marketing services and sales tools.


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