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

Gao ID: T-RCED-90-63 April 26, 1990

GAO discussed the prohibition on copyrighting the federal government's computer software, focusing on: (1) federal agencies' efforts to comply with the prohibition; (2) the extent to which copyright laws have constrained the transfer of federal software; and (3) the impact of amending the copyright law to allow federal agencies to copyright computer software. GAO noted that: (1) federal agencies were not copyrighting software developed by federal workers; (2) six federal agencies constrained efforts to transfer software to U.S. businesses because the government could not copyright and license software; (3) federal laboratories had little success in encouraging U.S. businesses to collaborate in developing software because businesses were concerned about protecting their software investments; (4) the Department of Defense believed that its inability to copyright federal software constrained it from entering into cooperative research and development agreements; (5) amending the copyright law could protect businesses developing and marketing software, and federal researchers would have an incentive to work with businesses in developing and documenting the software; and (6) federal laboratory managers and researchers opposed amending the copyright law, contending that copyrighting and licensing federal computer software would distract researchers, interfere with informal exchanges and the government's existing information policies, and allow agencies to improperly restrict information access.

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