Old Software Rights

Chuck Guzis cclist at sydex.com
Thu Jan 15 12:33:24 CST 2009

On 15 Jan 2009 at 12:40, Paul Koning wrote:

 Copyright these days is a LOT longer than 30 years.  And even back 
> the 1940s, it was 28 years initially plus another 28 years if renewed
> (and if the copyright was still in effect in 1976 then the new long
> terms would into play, if I understood right) -- so if you have a
> copyrighted work from 1940, it's in the public domain today if it
> wasn't renewed, but it's still copyrighted if it WAS renewed.

Copyright is implicit in all works produced today, whether or not 
stated.  Almost all software published during the 1970s has a 
copyright notice embedded.  After the Uruguay Round of the GATT 
talks, copyright for works published after 1923 whose copyright was 
in effect as of the URAA is 75 years, later extended to 90 by the 
Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act (yes, he, or rather his widow, of 
the other half of Cher.  Reportedly, Mary wanted to make copyright 
perpetual, but was informed that such a move was distinctly 

Read about the law at http://www.copyright.gov.

Rules outside of the US may be substantially different.  In 
particular, after the fall of the Soviet Union, legislation was 
passed in the US to allow works of Soviet origin to be removed from 
the Public Domain (so-called "restored" copyright.  Who says you 
can't put the toothpaste back into the tube?).  However, they may 
still be freely copied in Canada.

Bottom line is that there is no such legal entity as "abandonware" 
and you promulgate the idea at your own risk.

While economic damage is part of civil actions brought by copyright 
holders, it is not the whole picture.  Unlike patent infringement, 
copyright violation in the US is a criminal offense under the DMCA.  
Just because no one seems to be using IBM 5160s to run Harvard 
Presentation Graphics from 360K diskettes does not make it legal to 
copy and distribute it.  It's not up to the infringer to declare 
whether or not a work has any value.  So you may have to wait until, 
oh, 2075 or so before you can legally hand out those old copies of 
Lotus 1-2-3, assuming that our Congress isn't goaded into action by 
the Empire of the Mouse again.

As a musician, I'm continually frustrated by publishers of old 
copyrighted material (some stuff going back to the 1930s) who declare 

a work to be "permanently out of print" and will not authorize a copy 

(for a fee) nor provide me with a copy that they created from their 
archives.  Currently, the only resort left is to pick some other 

There's nothing in copyright law to force the owner to publish or 
support his works, nor give permission to copy.  And the notion of 
"Fair Use" is a very slippery slope--if you guess wrong, you're fully 



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