The IT Law Wiki


Computer Software Copyright Act of 1980, Pub. L. No. 96-517, 94 Stat. 3015, 3028 (1980).


The Act amended the 1976 Copyright Act concerning software. In the 1976 general revision of the copyright law, Congress was unable to agree on the proper scope or application of copyright law to computer programs. Accordingly, Congress legislated, in Section 117 of the 1976 Copyright Act, that the state of the law on copyrightability of computer programs would be preserved as it was on December 31, 1977.[1] At the same time, Congress formed a the CONTU Commission to make recommendations for copyright legislation on various computer-related matters.[2]

Congress enacted legislation recommended in the CONTU Final Report several years later[3] with one exception. The CONTU Final Report had recommended that "rightful possessors" of copies of a computer program be authorized to make copies of that program under certain circumstances. Congress, in enacting Section 117 substituted the word "owner" for the phrase "rightful possessor." The reason for the change from "rightful possessor" to "owner" is not known, and is not discussed in the legislative history of the statute. A letter from the Register of Copyrights stated that "the legislative history offers no real explanation for the change."[4]

The new Section 117 did two things:

  1. (1) It defined "computer program" as a "set of statements or instructions to be used directly or indirectly in a computer in order to bring about a certain result.”[5]
  2. (2) It amended Section 117 to state that it is not an infringement for the owner of a copy of a computer program to make copies or adaptations needed in utilizing the program or copies for archival purposes.[6]


  1. Copyright Act of 1976, Pub. L. No. 94-553, Title I, §401, 90 Stat. 2541 (formerly codified as 17 U.S.C. §117, but now superseded). This section provided that owners of copyrights were to have no "greater or lesser rights with respect to the use of the work" in computers than the rights "afforded to works [sic] under the law . . . in effect on December 31, 1977."
  2. Act of December 31, 1974, Pub. L. No. 93-573, 88 Stat. 1873, as amended by Act of October 28, 1977, Pub. L. No. 95-146, 91 Stat. 1226.
  3. Computer Software Copyright Act of 1980, Pub. L. No. 96-517, 94 Stat. 3015.
  4. Letter from Marybeth Peters to Congressman Carlos J. Moorhead, dated September 19, 1995.
  5. Act, amending 17 U.S.C. §101.
  6. Id., amending 17 U.S.C. §117.