17 U.S. Code § 117. Limitations on exclusive rights: Computer programs
As the program for general revision of the copyright law has evolved, it has become increasingly apparent that in one major area the problems are not sufficiently developed for a definitive legislative solution. This is the area of computer uses of copyrighted works: the use of a work “in conjunction with automatic systems capable of storing, processing, retrieving, or transferring information.” The Commission on New Technological Uses is, among other things, now engaged in making a thorough study of the emerging patterns in this field and it will, on the basis of its findings, recommend definitive copyright provisions to deal with the situation.
Since it would be premature to change existing law on computer uses at present, the purpose of section 117 is to preserve the status quo. It is intended neither to cut off any rights that may now exist, nor to create new rights that might be denied under the Act of 1909 or under common law principles currently applicable.
The provision deals only with the exclusive rights of a copyright owner with respect to computer uses, that is, the bundle of rights specified for other types of uses in section 106 and qualified in sections 107 through 116 and 118. With respect to the copyright-ability of computer programs, the ownership of copyrights in them, the term of protection, and the formal requirements of the remainder of the bill, the new statute would apply.
Under section 117, an action for infringement of a copyrighted work by means of a computer would necessarily be a federal action brought under the new title 17. The court, in deciding the scope of exclusive rights in the computer area, would first need to determine the applicable law, whether State statutory or common law or the Act of 1909. Having determined what law was applicable, its decision would depend upon its interpretation of what that law was on the point on the day before the effective date of the new statute.
1998—Pub. L. 105–304 designated existing provisions as subsecs. (a) and (b), inserted headings, and added subsecs. (c) and (d).
1980—Pub. L. 96–517 substituted provision respecting limitations on exclusive rights in connection with computer programs for prior provision enunciating scope of exclusive rights and use of the work in conjunction with computers and similar information systems and declaring owner of copyright in a work without any greater or lesser rights with respect to the use of the work in conjunction with automatic systems capable of storing, processing, retrieving, or transferring information, or in conjunction with any similar device, machine, or process, than those afforded to works under the law, whether this title or the common law or statutes of a State, in effect on Dec. 31, 1977, as held applicable and construed by the court in an action brought under this title.