The fundamental principles of copyright law are the same for all media, including electronic media. Nevertheless, the application of these fundamentals can differ with respect to electronic media. For example, the issue of whether a software program is original as long as it does not duplicate another program’s source code or object code is a question of application rather than fundamental legal principles. Certain laws have been enacted to clarify how established fundamentals should be applied to new media forms.

The Early Years

Originally, it was an open question of law whether computer programs should be protected by copyright law, patent law, or trade secret law. For this reason, software developers preferred to keep their creations as trade secrets Eventually, federal courts decided that copyright law is applicable to the protection of computer programs

Software Copyright Infringement

The lack of understanding of computer programming on the part of most judges, along with the ability to embed infringing code deeply within software programs, has challenged the effective enforcement of copyright law. A legal consensus emerged that there need be no direct copying of a program’s subject code or object code in order for infringement to occur – all that is necessary is sufficient similarity in the overall structure. The question of how similar is similar enough is an issue that is often contested in court.


Downloading muse and other electronic media from the Internet have become rampant in recent years. US law bans both ends of the file-sharing system (the unauthorized uploading and downloading of copyrighted material), while Canada permits both practices as long as it is for personal use only. BitTorrent peer-to-peer file-sharing technology is legal in both nations as long as no unauthorized sharing of copyrighted works occurs

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) was a major milestone in the application of copyright law to electronic media. One of the major issues it addressed was the legal status of Internet service providers such as Google and eBay that may allow users to gain access to content that infringes copyright law.

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