Under UK copyright law is software a “literary" work?

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Under UK copyright law is software a “literary" work?

Post by A.L.Verminburger »

I found evidence that software is a "literary" work:[1][2]

And also evidence that it is "non-literary": [3]

So really want to know whether software falls under "literary, dramatic, musical or artistic" work or not?
1. www.copyrightservice.co.uk/copyright/p0 ... yright_law
2. www.dyoung.com/article-ownership
3. www.gov.uk/copyright/overview
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Post by AndyJ »

Hi Verminburger

Yes software (strictly speaking a 'computer program') is classed as a type of literary work for the purposes of copyright. This is because in its human-friendly form, code and script is written using a series of words which conform to a 'language' with its own special syntax.

This convention arose many decades ago when most man/machine interfaces featured keyboards on teleprinters, thus extending the similarity.

More recent developments such as database right, have moved away from trying to shoehorn a new(ish) concept into an old category, thus databases form a sort of hybrid - a type of literary work but with a set of rights which stand alone and do not apply to other literary works.

We are now experiencing something similar with software. The EU Software Directive treats certain aspects of software entirely differently to other standard forms of copyright. A simple example is the fact that it is lawful to make a backup copy of a software disk you own but it is not legal to do the same with a music CD or film DVD. The second difference concerns what is known as the exhaustion of rights. It's too complicated to go into here but if you are interested in the subject, Google the Oracle v Usedsoft court case. Software also disrupts the standard conventional copyright model because some of its heritage lies with the open licence movement (such as shareware and more recently freeware), and the extensive use of end-user licensing which is relatively unknown in the other genres, or at least it was until the advent of eBooks and Spotify etc.

Something not dissimilar happened with films (aka movies). Originally these were considered for legal purposes to be a series of still images often accompanied by a sound recording, possibly also including a dramatic work (the subject matter), each of which was protected separately. Now of course films qualify for copyright in their own separate category alongside the more conventional categories of literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works, and newer formats such as video have been lumped in with film, even though a streaming video also has some of the characteristics of a broadcast.

I cannot explain why the gov.uk site chose to put software under the non-literary heading. Maybe they were trying make things simpler to understand! The whole piece is written in a very informal style which really has little to do with legal precision. For example, copyright does not 'prevent' copying etc. It provides a means for obtaining redress if someone does copy your work without permission.
Advice or comment provided here is not and does not purport to be legal advice as defined by s.12 of Legal Services Act 2007
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