Vanderbilt Law Review

First Page



The rapid evolution of computer technology raises difficult questions about the scope of protection the law should afford computer programs. Computer programs are uniquely different from traditional literary works protected by the copyright laws, because they have machine-like properties, are primarily functional in nature, and frequently are distributed in a form that humans cannot read. Despite these differences, however, computer programs have received protection under the copyright paradigm along with literary and artistic works. The United States historically has employed a highly protectionist approach to computer programs, as evidenced by early software infringement decisions in which courts slowly expanded protection by prohibiting copying of not only the literal or tangible aspects of computer programs but also the nonliteral elements. Recently, some courts have made an underlying shift in their interpretation of legal doctrine and policy from a broad standard of infringement that favors software copyright owners to a more narrow standard.