Copyright Law Constraints on the Transfer of Certain Federal Computer Software With Commercial Applications

Gao ID: T-RCED-90-44 March 7, 1990

GAO discussed federal agencies' efforts to comply with computer software copyright laws, and the advantages and disadvantages of amending copyright laws restricting the transfer of federal software. GAO found that: (1) there was no evidence that the federal government improperly copied computer software developed by federal employees; (2) federal software distribution centers used nonexclusive license agreements to restrict foreign access to software and customers' rights to disseminate software without prior permission; and (3) copyright prohibitions restricted the transfer and use of software with broader commercial applications and limited the government's success in developing software through cooperative research and development agreements. GAO also found that amending federal software copyright laws could: (1) protect businesses' investment in developing and marketing software; (2) improve public access to federal software; and (3) interfere with the government's existing policy of publicly disseminating technical information. GAO believes that it may be appropriate to extend copyright authority only to software that has potential commercial applications.

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