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Computer Associates International v. Altai, Inc., 982 F.2d 693 (1992) p.463


copyright infringement: computer programs


Plaintiff's former employee went to work for defendant. He used knowledge that he gained while at plaintiff's firm to quickly create a similar program that he had created for plaintiff. After defendant found this out, they rewrote the entire program.


The district judge found that defendant's computer program had infringed plaintiff's copyrighted computer program.


Whether and to what extent the non-literal aspects of a computer program, that is, those aspects that are not reduced to written code, are protected by copyright. Also the judge found that the program was not substantially similar and thus denied relief.


It is now well settled that the literal elements of computer programs their source and object codes, are the subject of copyright protection.


We affirm the dismissal of the copyright infringement.


Three elements in deciding these types of questions (non-literal infringement of computer programs; literal would be copying source of object code): 1. abstraction - say what the program actually is/does; think about the purpose of the program and why it has been created; this will help to determine if it qualifies as original expression (if doing it for efficiency, as a way to accomplish a certain function, cost, it is NOT original expression) 2. filtration - the pieces of original expression should now be left 3. comparison - it needs to be compared to the accused work at this stage; determine whether or not there is a substantial amount of copying


Computer programs fall into 17 USC 102 as a literary work. This case is a leading case and the case that all the other circuits have followed since.

Created on: Thursday, September 30, 1999 at 19:28:09 (PDT)

Copyright © Thompson Resources, 1999, all rights reserved.