How to Copyright Software Sanely

If you’re wondering how to copyright software the good news is you’ve probably already done it. At least you have if you have ever written software. Most people however get confused over exactly what having a copyright for their software means and this is the trickier question to answer. First of all, thinking it isn’t going to do it and you can’t really copyright the things you think.

Second, only those things that can be seen (when it comes to software) can be copyrighted. If you want to protect the abstract, look into patents. Otherwise if it is original, fixed, and tangible you can copyright it. Essentially you already know how to copyright software if you’ve put it into a finished form. Once you’ve written the source code the copyright belongs to you.

Copyrighting software doesn’t offer the protection that many people hope it will. The idea of the software and anything about the finished product that wasn’t available in a tangible (visible) form isn’t protected by the copyright. In fact the only thing that is undeniably protected by copyright when it comes to software is the source code. The question you should be asking is now how to copyright software, it is how to patent your software and that requires a much more involved and prolonged explanation.

To obtain a patent for your software you must apply for a patent in each country that offers patents for software and in which you wish to have the protection a patent can offer. I warned you this was much trickier than how to copyright software. Then it gets trickier still. There is no universal legal definition of what a software patent is so each country that offers patents also has a different definition for what is protected by that patent as well as for why a patent will be granted. If you want to add to the confusion a little more while wondering how to copyright software, also consider the fact that your software may be given a patent in one of the countries where you applied and none of the others.

The main thing you need to do if you’re going for international patents (which can secure a profitable future for you and your business) is to get a really good patent lawyer and have him walk you through and hold your hand for the entire process. In fact, I would say that’s probably the best advice you can get.

Patents are complicated and when you’re not exactly sure of what you’re doing, whom you need to talk to, and what the next step is you stand to waste a lot of time while taking a bigger risk. It is much easier to deal with how to copyright software on your own than it is to work out the complicated world of software patents.

If this is your first time designing your own software you have every right to be nervous and excited and scared to death at the same time. Remember lawyers went to school much longer than you in order to know what to do in this situation so you should not be expected to know how to copyright software when you’ve never done it before.

Joshua Shoemaker

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