Software - Reducing Theft & Unauthorized Copying


Companies that sell mailing lists salt their lists with phony names that contain addresses that return mail to the company owning the lists.  That way, if someone steals the list, or uses it without authorization, the company gets a mailing and knows something's afoot.  Software engineers can do the same thing, putting in a line of code that has nothing to do with the functionality of the program.  If someone else pirates the program, they will be unable to explain how the coded address for the engineer's mother got into their program.  This can quickly shut down an infringer and is a good example of an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure.  (Of course, it is not always easy to get a copy of the infringing software but if it can be obtained, this device could save a lot of time and money.)

Having a copyright on a piece of software does not mean that no one else in the world can come up with the same program.  Remember, copyright does not protect the idea, only the expression of the idea.  If a person comes up with software that resembles yours, but there is no evidence of "access" to your creation, you will not be able to block them from using or selling their work..

Many programs produce "screens" where information is displayed on a computer monitor.  Someone may come up with a program that displays screens that are similar if not identical to yours.  The first reaction is to conclude that there must be copyright infringement but it is the code that is important, not the screens, unless the screens themselves have been copyrighted.

Devices are being developed that will cut down on copying off the internet..  Adding a logo in one corner, like the Disney channel does on TV, is one way to slow it down, but the leakage is so prevalent that many companies ignore it.  The biggest leak in major pieces of software is through employee theft, either while working for the software's creator, or after leaving to go to work for a competitor.  A good employment agreement with non-compete language is the best way to stop this type of leakage.  If word gets out that an employee is now at a new software company and may be using proprietary information to help his new boss, a letter to the new company with a copy of the employment agreement may be enough to bank their fires.  They will quickly learn that if they help the employee violate his prior employment agreement, the new employer may be sued for tortious interference with a contract.


Law Offices of Douglas Clark Hollmann


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Copyright - All Rights Reserved - Douglas Clark Hollmann - 2000

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