are protections afforded to written expressions by federal law. They prevent unauthorized copying or duplicating of protected works. The protections are available to writings of all kinds, including computer software.
Copyrights protect the expression of ideas and are often contrasted with trade secrets, which protect ideas themselves but not their expression. The distinctions are important.
Companies cannot publish their secret processes in a magazine with a copyright notice and expect to keep others from using the process. The copyright will prevent only the duplication of the way in which those ideas were expressed in the magazine. By the same token, there are things such as mass-marketed video games and monitor displays for which copyrights provide valuable protections that trade secrets cannot. And, where the use of a secret process requires copying of the expression of that process, as with many computer software programs, copyrights can, for many practical purposes, protect the process itself.
Copyrights can be obtained for computer software in object code or source code. They can also be obtained for documentation, manuals, and display screen configurations. Copyrights are available to software that is mass-marketed or sold under restrictive license.
Securing copyright protection requires careful compliance with the federal copyright rules. Whenever copyrights are used to protect a valuable asset, companies should engage qualified counsel to assist them in making the application. Particularly when the asset is software, management should understand the advantages and disadvantages to copyrights and the best application procedure to follow before sending a program printout or a portion of a program printout to Washington.
Qualified lawyers can help management determine whether copyrights, trade secrets, or patents, or a combination of the three, provide the best protection for a company's asset. They can also plot a strategy for obtaining those protections. See: Patents, Software Protection, Trade Secrets.