Copyrights and Secrets

David Johnson david at
Fri Mar 1 03:57:35 UTC 2002

WARNING: I am not a lawyer. I don't even play one on TV. I'm just this guy.

On Thursday 28 February 2002 12:15 pm, Ken Brown wrote:
> 1)  does a copyright of a software cover its underlying source code?

Every piece of software is automatically copyrighted upon its creation. The 
source code was the orginal copyrighted work even if it is never distributed 
by the author.

> 2) if the source code is published, is it protected from being copied if
> it is copyrighted?

All source code is protected from being copied regardless of its publication 

> 3)  if one views codes without permission and uses it,
> has that person violated a copyright?

What do you mean by "use?" Copying the software is still prohibited. Running 
the software on your computer is not. But if you view the source code without 
permission, odds are that your copy that you're running on your computer is 
not a legal copy.

> 4) does copyright law correctly deal
> with software or should it be updated to properly deal with these issues
> and other open source concerns? 

I'm hesitant to recommend any changes to copyright law simply because I don't 
trust any of the people in charge of changing it. But there are three things 
I would look for in any proposed bill:

a) Abolishes the DMCA
b) Does not consider the installation or execution of the software to be acts 
of copying.
c) Makes it abundantly clear that reverse engineering, making backups, normal 
execution, and resale to be legal activities.

What I would REALLY like to see is not a change to copyright law, but a 
change to contract law. Abolish click-thru licensing. Abolish shrink-wrap 
licensing. Abolish any type of licensing that signals assent through the 
excercise of pre-existing rights. For example, I have the legal right to use 
Windows XP through the simple act of purchasing as copy of it, but my use of 
the software is triggers the activation of the MS EULA.

> 5)  is a trade secret different from a
> source code secret in the sense that the software is published and the
> trade secret is not?

I don't know much about trade secrets. But I seem to recall that you actually 
have to apply for a trade secret whereas you don't have to apply for 
copyright. You can't publish a trade secret and keep it secret. From what I 
understand, the primary purpose of trade secrets is to give someone a club to 
prevent someone else from revealing secrets, but that once these secrets are 
sufficiently revealed, you lose the trade secret rights.

David Johnson
pgp public key on website
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