Vintage Software Copyright

Paul Koning paulkoning at
Fri Aug 21 10:42:09 CDT 2015

> On Aug 21, 2015, at 11:27 AM, Johnny Billquist <bqt at Update.UU.SE> wrote:
> On 2015-08-21 17:21, Peter Cetinski wrote:
>> This discussion on the legality of sharing manuals, PDFs, etc. leads me to think about the vintage computing hobby as a whole.  While we all encourage the hobby to grow, the downside is that as it does, the software copyright holders may start to take notice.  As a developer of modern systems who expects to be paid for my work (except what I share with the community of course) I am in a conundrum because the hobby cannot succeed without the large collection of easily accessible vintage software available yet there is no way to “buy” most of it today.  But, we would also not expect or would we pay 1980s retail prices.  I know some generous copyright owners have allowed unrestricted use of their old software, like Roy Soltoff from Misosys, but many others have not or have disappeared.  I’m fairly new to the hobby so maybe this has already been hashed out years ago.  Just wondering what the community thinks.
> My opinion is that people should not try to pretend that their actions are legal when they are not. While I support work to preserve things, we really need to get permission from copyright owners before just letting thing out freely.
> I know DEC made a general permission to copy and distribute out-of-print manuals. They also made some software freely available. I believe pretty much all PDP-8 software is in there. Some restricted distributions of PDP-11 software was also made available, but the majority of PDP-11 software is still under copyright and with no permission to redistribute (DEC sold it).

Please remember that, in general, a general permission to copy is NOT a waiver of copyright.  So those manuals for which there is a permission to copy ARE still under copyright (assuming they were in the first place, which is likely).  What you have there is a specific permission granted by the owner (the copyright holder), which allows you to do the things granted, but doesn't allow you to do other things.  For example, there may be permission to copy and distribute the document as it stands; that permission may (or may not) include permission to OCR it and distributed the resulting text in different forms.  But it may very well disallow creating derived works.

On the other hand, if an owner did indeed release a work to the public domain, then you can do anything you want with that work.

This may not matter very much in practice, but if you want to apply copyright correctly, you'll want to be careful to use terms like "public domain" and "still under copyright" accurately.


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