Protecting Programs and Data
Suppose Martha wrote a computer program to play a video game. She invited some friends over to play the game and gave them copies so that they could play at home. Steve took a copy and rewrote parts of Martha's program to improve the quality of the screen display. After Steve shared the changes with her, Martha incorporated them into her program. Now Martha's friends have convinced her that the program is good enough to sell, so she wants to advertise and offer the game for sale by mail. She wants to know what legal protection she can apply to protect her software.
Copyrights, patents, and trade secrets are legal devices that can protect computers, programs, and data. However, in some cases, precise steps must be taken to protect the work before anyone else is allowed access to it. In this section, we explain how each of these forms of protection was originally designed to be used and how each is currently used in computing. We focus primarily on U.S. law, to provide examples of intent and consequence. Readers from other countries or doing business in other countries should consult lawyers in those countries to determine the specific differences and similarities.