White SW Computer Law
Intellectual Property, Information Technology & Telecommunications Lawyers
Melbourne Office - PO Box 452, COLLINS STREET WEST Victoria 8007 Australia
Sydney Office - GPO Box 2506, SYDNEY New South Wales 2001 Australia
Telephone: Melbourne Office - +61 3 9629 3709 Sydney Office - +61 2 9233 2600
Facsimile: Melbourne Office - +61 3 9629 3217 Sydney Office - +61 2 9233 3044
Email: wcl@computerlaw.com.au Internet: http://www.computerlaw.com.au

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A computer programmer relies to a certain extent upon the honesty of their customers in order to make a return on the time and costs invested in developing a software program. Unfortunately, schools like many other organisations faced with budgetary restraints are looking for all possible sources of expense reduction and the computer programmer is often an easy and inadvertent target.

Many educational packages are available as either a single user or site licence. When there is no protection mechanism built into the program, in many cases a single user program is copied to be used in a multiple user environment. Such use of a computer program is a copyright infringement unless permitted under the terms of the licence.

We see quite often in the press and our firm is involved in large scale copyright infringements. Such cases are usually involve the copying of internationally renown software published by the market leaders. Small scale developers are faced with the fact that surveillance of its clientele is not only costly, but can be interpreted by their customers as harassment. The developer is then caught in the dilemma of not knowing whether their intellectual property is being infringed or not. In some cases, developers may actually know that single user products have been copied but have to weigh up the loss they are suffering with the potential future loss of a client should they seek to enforce their legal rights.

It is important for school administrators to know that copyright not only subsists in the software, but also the associated documentation. Unless otherwise stated in the software licence, you should seek the permission of the developer before copying any manuals or other materials which were supplied with the program.

In light of intellectual property becoming a more valued and protected asset, schools should consider appointing an intellectual property officer whose tasks would include recording the licensing terms for all software purchased and regular software audits to ensure unlicensed copies are not in use. Does your school have a record of teaching materials produced and used and the intellectual property owners of these materials?

Copyright disputes are expensive to commence and defend. In many cases the legal costs involved deter many developers who have a claim for copyright infringement from taking action. However, the losses incurred by developers as a result of software piracy and unlicensed use are passed on to consumers by inflated purchased prices for licensed software. As these losses continue to increase, the number of copyright infringements being prosecuted will continue to increase and could be financially devastating for a school using unlicensed software.

APRIL 1997

www.computerlaw.com.au © White SW Computer Law 1997 This article is a guide only and should not be used as a substitute for proper legal advice, readers should make their own enquiries and seek appropriate legal advice.

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