Friday, 3 January 2014

Practical and Legal protection of Software and Computer Program/s

Article I wish to  discuss both  the practical  and legal methods of  protecting  Software and Computer Program/s from unauthorized  copying and use.
  • Computer Program/s and  Software  are  new forms of  Intellectual property   and are of growing importance in today’s world.
  • IPR (Intellectual Property Rights): protection for Computer Program/s and  Software had traditionally been  restricted to  copy rights.
  • Computer Program/s and  Software are entitled to  be protected under the Copy Right Act  as  “literary work”.  Literary work includes “computer programmes, tables, compilations including computer data-base”
  • Section 2(ffc) of The Copy Right Act defines  computer program as a set of instructions expressed in words, codes, schemes or any other form, including a machine readable medium capable of  causing  a Computer  to perform a particular task or achieve a particular result.
  • Software  is easily reproducible since it can be copied cheaply, very fast without loosing on the quality  and once copied  one language can be converted to another.
  • Copyright infringement is fairly easy to get away with  since it can always be claimed  that the  source codes, algorithms etc could be used for  different implementations.
  • The intentional use of moles of special identities  in the Computer Program/s and Software called as “seeds” or “signatures” by the author in a Computer Program/s and  Software, when  combined with the three main vehicles of  of legal protection: copyright, trade secrets and  contracts, can create a powerful defense against  the “computer pirate”
  • The Indian Software Industry, is  one of the top  most foreign  exchange earner for the country and hence it needs to take a closer  look and safe guard its market and intellect of its programmers , more so since Commercial benefit  that are being derived by this Industry is substantial and the nature of protection that needs to be provided is very important.
There is a greater need for the Software Industry to   change its orientation and stress for the protection of its Computer Program/s and  Software, for only by doing so there is scope of  original product development  and the Industry can legally maintain a monopoly  in a particular area of  competence  to the exclusion of the competitors.
Where does India stand on - COPYRIGHTS:
  • The TRIPS Agreement, signed and ratified by  India in 1996.
  • It prescribes certain minimum standards of protection for Copy Right.
  • Though the  1994 legislation  more than meets the WTO requirement it is felt that the enforcement is weak. The WTO requires that the India Act extend protection to literary, scientific and artistic works.
  • In 1999, the Copyright Act  was amended with amendments to definition  of literary work, computer programmes, increased  the term of copyright of performers from 25 to 50 years.
  • New provisions have been inserted pertaining to the powers of the Central government to apply the provisions  relating to broadcasting organizations  and performers in certain other countries, and powers to restrict  rights of foreign broadcasting organizations and performers.
What is a COPYRIGHT ?
  • Copyright protects the expression of the idea and not the idea itself. Originality requires the author  of the specific work to contribute  something more than a mere “trivial” variation  which is recognizably “his own” and the work should  evolve from the intellect of the author.
  • The work shall be the  result of mental labour  and shall not be altered or  edited repetition of an already existing work.
  • Copyright doctrine envisages , that the work must show some “creativity” in order to meet the originality test and it is not subject to  copyright if the work merely  copies an existing work.
Why a Computer Program/s and/or  Software is hard to legally protect:
  • The basic problem in protecting  Computer Program/s and  Software  is that the information compiled  is frequently a public knowledge, understandably so since the user  has to know how to use it.
  • Under traditional  concepts of literary copyright, the program  contained in a compilation, may sometimes  not be protected from copying
  • Only the co-ordination and arrangement  of the program  may  be protected and even then there must be some  originality to the collection  and arrangement for it to be protected.
Legal Protection currently available:
  • Law and the courts  in general are struggling to keep up  with the rapid changes in technology by  passing new enactments, but with considerable delay.
  • Different  forms of Intellectual property protection can be  extended and are appropriate  for the individual components in a Program. There are essentially four ways to protect a computer software and program : copy right, patents, trade secrets and contracts.
  • Program function can be protected by  patents and trade secrets.
  • Mostly Copyright protection  and to some extent  designed patent protection  is used for  program interface like file formats, Application Program Interface communication protocols and specifications.
  • For Program  codes  copyrights and  licensing agreements  provide the protection
  • Ideally, all four of these legal means can be employed , along with practical non-legal methods, to provide the maximum protection against the piracy of Computer Program/s and  Software.
  • Indian Copyright law provides  the frame work and basic  foundation  for legal protection by securing  for limited time  to the authors and inventors  the exclusive rights  in their respective writings and discoveries.
Copyright Protection:
  • Computer Program/s and  Software are entitled to  be protected under the Copy Right Act  as  “literary work”.  Literary work includes “computer program/s, tables, compilations including computer data-base”
  • Section 2(ffc) of The Copy Right Act defines  computer program as a set of instructions expressed in words, codes, schemes or any other form, including a machine readable medium capable of  causing  a Computer  to perform a particular task or achieve a particular result. piracy of Computer Program/s and  Software.
Trade Secret Protection:
  • Trade Secret  had  long been  the favorite protection  by the software industry. Most of the software is protected at least to some extent  by trade secrets. Adding trade secrecy  protection to  Computer Program/s and  Software   can provide significantly a greater legal  rights.
  • Trade secret  is knowledge  which a person  or company  acquires  through it own efforts  and which has some value to  it. This  knowledge  is kept a secret  from competitors  because it is  felt that this  information  provides some type of competitive advantage.
  • Trade Secret Information,  include information regarding  a formula, pattern, compilation, program, device, method, technique or process. The information should derive independent economic value , actual or potential, not being generally known to , not being  readily ascertainable  by proper means by, other  persons who can obtain economic value  from its disclosure or use;  and is the subject  of effort  that reasonably  warrants under the circumstances  to maintain its secrecy.
  • A Computer Program/s or   Software   is a compilation  which derives  economic value, it is  intellectual property  which has to receive and is  eligible for  trade secrecy protection. The common legal devise for implementing  the principle  of trade secret  is the non  disclosure and  secrecy agreement.
  • The common legal devise for implementing  the principle  of trade secret  is the non disclosure and  secrecy agreement.
  • It is a common practice with the Indian Companies  to take a  declaration or enter into a  non disclosure and secrecy agreement with its  employees. Once having signed this  the employee is obliged to keep  as a secret  the knowledge gained from his former  employment in any future   employment  more so with a  competitor.
Protection by Contract :
  • A seller of the Computer Program/s and  Software  can require that any purchaser enter into a written contract  as a condition of purchase  of the Computer Program/s and  Software.
  • The written agreement could expressly provide  that the purchaser will not disclose the software/program to any one, restrict the use of the product for himself, not to make any copies of unauthorized use of  information.  Typically this takes  the form of a License Agreement  between the  preparer/licensor of the Computer Program/s and  Software and the user/licensee of the Computer Program/s and  Software.
  • The licensee  merely purchases the right to use the program. The licensee’s  right to use  the program  can be limited in any  number of ways.
  • Most important limitations typically are that the licensee can only use the program on one or a select number of computers, the licensee may not make  any copies of the program, and the licensee has to keep  confidential  certain information  about the Computer Program/s and  Software.
Practical protection of Computer Program/s and Software:
  • Author of the data base is well advised  to try and strengthen  his legal  hand as much as possible with certain  practical protection  measures which when employed prevent some one  from  copying  his work, or if they do,  to make proof of  this copying in a court of Law far easier.
  • One method is the deliberate placement of errors or omissions  in your Computer Program/s and  Software. The placement of deliberate errors and omissions in the program is known as  the placement of “seeds”  or “Salting” a Computer Program/s and  Software. If your competitors Program/s contains  the same errors or omissions, then you have pretty good evidence  that your program  was copied. 
  • These seeds will provide the best evidence, in a Court of Law, of copying.
  • Errors that  occur if the database is large enough should be carefully documented and recorded.
  • Implanting Computer “signatures” pertaining  to the computer code  or programming itself  are identifiable signs and can be of good evidentiary value. These signatures can be identified by the author  as they depict his style of programming.  This can be comparable to the style of writing.
  • Apart from the above all standard non copying protection  can be imposed upon the program itself. This makes it difficult  for most users to ever make  a copy of the program.
Although copy right protection  has become important, due to the role that is being played by the Indian Software Industry  nationally and globally, and should almost always be pursued, in any license of a Computer Program/s and  Software  of significant value, copyright protection alone should not be relied upon  to prohibit unauthorized copying. Trade secret protections, non compete and non disclosure agreements and employee generated IP assignment agreements  between the vendor and consumer, employer and employee, hirer and the programmer are necessary  to protect such database.  If,  as has already been witnessed    and noted, information  technology continues to grow  in commercial value and importance , then the proliferation  of  licenses and abovementioned agreements  are likely to be preferred and given importance.  To make or buy technology, the country needs a strong system of IPR, be it Copyrights, Patents, Trademarks, Designs, etc. If we need to stand on par with developed nations in the world market  for IT knowledge, if we need to  exploit the   substantial revenue generation capacity of  such technology, we need to protect ourselves and this is the only  way  of converting knowledge into wealth.

Ashok Ram Kumar.

Ashok Ram Kumar is the Senior partner at IP Markets and can be contacted at

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