In this course you saw how the state regulates the use of software in the interests of the wider community. However, this legal regulation does not always have wide support, and in discussion of these laws you encountered a number of issues. This area of law will continue to evolve in the years ahead.
We made the following points:
- Intellectual property in the form of software and digital content needs the protection of the law because copying such material is easy and cheap.
- Protection of property rights by law may not always be in the wider social interest, and some development is necessary here, particularly with a view to helping developing nations.
- Copyright law protects the expression of an idea but not the idea itself; the rights protected by copyright law include the moral right to be known as the author, and the right to economic beneﬁt.
- Patents protect ideas themselves and are now applicable to software, although this is controversial.
- Software, as public goods, can be protected using intellectual property law.
- Contracts need to be carefully drawn up to protect the interests of all parties against a range of contingencies.
- Data stored in computer systems should be accurate and appropriate and used only for the purposes for which it was gathered.
- Software and the digital content it stores can cause harm for which anyone in the supply chain could be held liable.
- The workplace in which computers and software are used needs regulation to protect those who use the computers.
- Harm may be caused deliberately, and acts which cause deliberate harm should be treated as criminal offences.
When acquiring, developing and deploying software and computer systems, all these legal matters must be taken into account and expert legal advice should be sought.