Zapping A Software Copier

Williams Electronics vs. Artic International
U.S. Ct. App., Philadelphia

A maker of amusement- arcade video games has won important new protections for computer programs encoded in read-only memory chips. The victory comes in the latest of a deluge of lawsuits around the country in which developers of popular games are trying to stop imitators from selling me-too copies. The originators of the games ordinarily try to protect themselves by getting a copyright on the specific graphics displayed on the tube, but the newest case involved an additional copyright: one on the program itself. Business programs are normally printed out in text form, and copying the text of a copyrighted program would clearly violate the law. However, the copier in the video game case argued that a copy "must be intelligible to human beings." An RI chip that duplicated a protected R chip, he contended, is not a copy under this definition but a part of a machine and so cannot be held to be an infringement.

Although a trial court in Chicago in 1979 bought that argument, the district court in the video game case did not, and neither did the appellate panel. Congress meant the word "copy" to be given an "expansive interpretation," the appellate judges said, refusing to open what they called "an unlimited loophole" by excluding chips from the definition.

Williams Electronics vs. Artic International
U.S. Ct. App., Philadelphia.

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