[Coco] mikeyterm (software copyrights)
jcewy at swbell.net
Thu Sep 18 12:47:38 EDT 2008
Chuck Youse wrote:
> No offense to anyone who's posting on this thread, but can we shut up
> about copyrights already? We all know the score by this point, some
> shit is copyrighted, some isn't, it's unclear at times what is, and if
> the author would even care or not, blah blah blah.
> Running around in friggin' circles..
I agree. Copyright permits the author to dictate the terms under which
a work is copied. My (admittedly now hazy) recollection is that
Mikeyterm was copyrighted and distributed as shareware, which means it
is freely distributable, but with continued use there was the
expectation of a contribution to the author. Actually doing so was left
up to the individual conscience of the user. Sometimes shareware
programs were licensed by distributors who would, in effect, collect the
shareware fee from customers and pay the author, minus a distribution
I think most of us can agree on these general points:
1. Copyright law still stands. The author holds the copyright to
anything he or she writes and does not expressly place in the Public
Domain. Copyright lasts, in effect, forever. Not quite in theory, but
for practical purposes that might as well be the case.
2. Copyright gives you the right to sue if you think you've been
3. The common practice is first to give warnings and then to take legal
4. Lawyers and court cases cost money. The likelihood of anybody
actually suing anyone else over 20 year old software or documentation
for a computer that hasn't been made since 1991 is slim to say the
least. Could happen. Isn't likely. Probably wouldn't be worth the
effort. Big magazine publishing companies may have a lawsuit reflex,
and like Chrysler, may take a while to understand that it isn't worth
their time. It's probably not helpful to taunt them.
5. Many of the individual authors of old CoCo software don't mind if
people trade copies of their programs at this point and some may even be
grateful that their work has been preserved. Paladin's Legacy is a good
recent case in point. Some software publishers and authors have given
their express permission for their old products to be distributed as
freeware. The games you can download from L. Curtis Boyle's web site
are examples of this.
6. There are without a doubt technical copyright violations out there
on publicly accessible servers. The ones I have seen are all programs
that haven't been available for sale for many years, and aren't
compromising anybody's real revenue stream. Copyright violations?
Probably. Actually causing any harm? Probably not. Possibly doing
some good in terms of preserving a historical record, and maintaining
some level of interest in the CoCo which might in itself possibly
preserve the potential for some tiny, miniscule marketplace for future
programs? I think so.
7. We ought to be sensitive to the copyright holders' legitimate
interests. Just because we think someone ought to let us copy their
program a couple decades down the road doesn't give us the right to do
so against their wishes. If authors show up and request removal of
their work from public ftp sites, I think that should be respected.
8. Violating the copyrights of authors who are currently selling
software in the CoCo market should be considered not only illegal, but
very bad form indeed. I have not seen rogue copies of Drivewire or
'Mary and the Butterflies' on the public servers, and I would think that
their authors would be rightly very angry if this were to happen. But
the standards of the CoCo community seem to be such that this isn't
happening, at least insofar as I am aware.
9. Awareness of copyright law and licensing issues has increased since
the time many CoCo programs were originally written and distributed.
Back in the day, the term 'Public Domain' was used very loosely, for
example. You would often see contradictory statements like "I release
this program into the Public Domain for non-commercial use only." Well,
if it is truly in the public domain, then anybody can do whatever they
want with it, commercial or no. Now we have all kinds of much more
sophisticated licensing options, like the GPL, different versions of
Creative Commons licensing, and other forms of Open Source, as well as
closed source freeware and good old fashioned commercial licenses. If
you have a disk image with a half-dozen BASIC programs, very likely even
they aren't properly, explicitly in the Public Domain, and copyright
technically remains with the original author, whoever that was. The
likely intent was that they be shared with all for any purpose, though
it may be impossible to tell for certain, because such documentation was
not the rule in those days. Old commercial games that have a copyright
notice on the splash screen clearly had a different intent. At this
point, I think the community norm seems to be that quiet and respectful
sharing of these programs hurts no one and strengthens the community
unless it is learned that the author does not approve. Since even many
of the programs that weren't originally commercial are ambiguously
licensed at the best, and their original authors likely completely
unidentifiable and unreachable, there would be very very little CoCo
software publicly available if we adhered to the strictest
interpretation of copyright law.
10. Therefore I think we must recognize the imperfection of copyright
law, and its understanding and use in the past and today, and strike a
pragmatic balance between the rights of the original authors, the past
and present users, and the community, and leave the final decision to
the individual. If you were driving the speed limit and somebody passed
you going just a little faster, you wouldn't likely call the police. It
wouldn't do any good, they really aren't doing any harm, and you've
almost certainly been there and done that yourself. The police might
not even pull them over if they were there to see it. If somebody
passes you on the shoulder going 40MPH faster than the general flow of
traffic, you might be more tempted to call in their tag number.
(Probably still wouldn't do any good, but their driving is not just
violating the letter of the law, but is arguably posing a real hazard.)
Sharing copies of quarter-century-old commercial games: going 75 in a
70MPH zone. Giving away programs Roger Taylor or Cloud 9 are currently
selling: reckless endangerment. Both technically illegal. One
commonly accepted practice, the other something we should all avoid and
11. Let's quit talking about this soon.
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