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Software Copyright: Basics – Copyright

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The way software is used, designed, sold, and marketed raises
different types of copyright challenges. Software Copyright is the
legal right belonging to software developers/owners to copy and
distribute their software as well as to prosecute anyone who uses
the software in an unauthorized way and without permission.

It’s important to note that Copyright does not protect mere
ideas or concepts. Only the expression of ideas or concepts in a
fixed and tangible medium is protected. When it comes to software,
that would mean the software code.

According to the Copyright Act of Nigeria a programmer
automatically owns the copyright of any program or code written by
them, which lasts 70 years after the creator of the software

Software Infringement

Software copyright infringement can occur directly or
indirectly. Direct copying of a source code or adapting a version
of the original code by way of derivative work constitutes software
copyright infringement.

Also, software copyright can be infringed without necessarily
making a copy of the code. The mere use of an original computer
program to create the same functionality in a new program would
suffice as an infringement. Even if none of the original code is
used, the copyright in the original program may in some cases be
infringed. For example using an original computer program for
“inspiration” to create the same functionality in a new


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Despite the legal protection , Software copyright infringement
can be notoriously difficult to enforce. This was evident in the
Google LLC v. Oracle America, Inc. case, a case where a U.S.
Supreme Court gave a decision relating to the nature of computer
code and copyright law. The dispute in that case centered on the
use of parts of the Java programming language’s application
programming interfaces (APIs) and about 11,000 lines of source
code, which were owned by Oracle, Google admitted to using the APIs
but claimed this was within fair use.

Oracle initiated the suit arguing that the APIs were
copyrightable, seeking US$8.8 billion in damages from Google’s
sales and licensing of the earlier infringing versions of Android.
While two District Court-level jury trials were found in favor of
Google, the Federal Circuit Court reversed both decisions,
asserting APIs are copyrightable and Google’s use does not fall
under fair use. Google successfully petitioned the Supreme Court to
hear the case in the 2019 term, focusing on the copyrightability of
APIs and subsequent fair use; the Supreme Court ruled in a
6–2 decision that Google’s use of the Java APIs fell
within the four factors of fair use, bypassing the question on the
copyrightability of the APIs. The decision reversed the Federal
Circuit ruling.

The enormity of software infringement varies in different
countries and Nigeria is not an exception. According to the
Business Software Alliance (BSA) about 36% of all software in
current use is stolen. As of 2011 software infringement rates in
Nigeria stood at 82% with attendant opportunities for small
businesses in the region of $250 million lost. As a result of this
local Nigerian businesses have had difficulty competing with
counterfeiters that have priced their goods below market levels and
are then forced to cut jobs. there is also a loss of tax revenue
and an increase in cost recovery which overall, affects the social
well-being of the citizenry.

As best practice, using an identity-based licensing solution,
planting redundant code or Software as a Service (SaaS) protection,
etc will ensure you always know who your end-users are, making it
easy to prove copyright infringement.


  1. Copyright Act, Cap. C28, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria



  4. Google v. Oracle 593 U.S (2021)

  5. Vanguard News June 20, 20220 retrieved from

  6. First Annual BSA and IDC Global software piracy study

The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.

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