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Is the Lotus 1-2-3 Menu Command Hierarchy
The Lotus 1-2-3 (a computer spreadsheet program) litigation continues to grow exponentially. In the coming months it will wind its way up the steps of the Supreme Court in Washington and present itself to yet another court, this time the highest in the United States. It is rare for copyright issues to be granted certiorari and thus what the Supreme Court has to say on the issue will have far reaching effects for American intellectual property law.
Lurking behind this litigation lies the interminable idea-expression dichotomy. The indeterminacy predicted in this area from the copyright master Learned Hand, lingers on. In two separate actions (Lotus Development Corporation v Paperback Software International and Lotus Development Corporation v Borland International Inc) Judge Robert Keeton of the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts has held the Lotus 1-2-3 user interface to be a copyrightable expression encompassed by s 102 (a) of the Copyright Act 1976 (17 U.S.C.). The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit rejected Keeton J's approach in March of this year in Lotus Development Corporation v Borland International Inc holding that the Lotus 1-2-3 user interface was a "method of operation" and therefore outside the ambit of copyrightable subject matter listed in s 102 (a). The matter as has been intimated now lies at the door of the Supreme Court.
In anticipation of that decision this article outlines the judgments of Keeton J in Paperback and Borland and the Court of Appeals in Borland aiming to provide a background that will allow the reader to fully appreciate the decision of the Supreme Court when it finally arrives.
Part I: Lotus Development Corporation v Paperback Software International
The two main questions considered in this case were:
i) whether and to what extent the plaintiff's computer spreadsheet program, Lotus 123, was copyrightable and;
ii) whether the defendants' VPPlanner was, an infringing work containing elements substantially similar to copyrightable elements of 123, ...
b) Literal and Non Literal Aspects of Computer Programs
Keeton J commenced his judgment with an excellent overview of the operational aspects of computers and then set about explaining the distinction between literal and non literal aspects of computer programs and the relevance of such a distinction to the case at hand. He explained:
Defendants vigorously dispute .... the copyrightability of any nonliteral elements of computer programs. That is, defendants assert that only literal manifestations of computer programs are copyrightable. Plaintiff, on the other hand, maintains that copyright protection extends to all elements of computer programs that embody original expression, whether literal or nonliteral, including any original expression embodied in a program's "user interface."
One difficulty with plaintiff's argument is the amorphous nature of "nonliteral" elements of computer programs. Unlike the written code of a program or a flowchart that can be printed on paper, nonliteral elements including such elements as the overall organization of a program, the structure of a program's command system, and the presentation of information on the screen may be less tangibly represented. Whether these elements are copyrightable, and if so, how the nonliteral elements that are copyrightable may be identified, are central to deciding this case.
Judge Keeton then turned to appraise the statutory protection of computer programs. He cited 17 U.S.C. s 102 (a) which provides that copyright exists "...in original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression ...". "Original" he explained was not to be limited to works that are novel or unique (which is closer to the standard in patent law); originality refers to works created independently by an author regardless of their literary or aesthetic merit. Examples of "works of authorship" he explained were listed in 17 U.S.C. s 102 (a) to include literary works. Keeton J went on to say that after amendments to the Copyright Act 1976, in 198O, computer programs were commonly regarded as coming within the definition of "literary work" in 17 U.S.C s 101. However citing s 102 (b) Keeton J made it clear that copyright protection for an original work of authorship did not extend to any "idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle or discovery."
d) The Object and Policy of Copyright Law
In developing the meaning of the statute Judge Keeton continued on to assess the object and policy of the Copyright Act 1976. He rehearsed the view that copyright monopolies are not granted for the purpose of rewarding authors, but rather to to serve the public welfare by encouraging authors (broadly defined) to generate new i
Quotes talked about in this paper
- The Court responded: We think that "method of operation," ...
- The Court suggested as Lotus wrote its menu command hierarchy "so that people could learn it and use it" ...
- The Court reinforced this point as it continued to explain "method of operation" ...
- The Court concluded with a reference to Feist Publications Inc v Rural Telephone Service Co. suggesting the policy of copyright was not to reward authors but to promote the progress of science and the arts and to this end copyright protects an author's right to original expression but encourages others to "build" ...
- "idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle or discovery." d) The Object and Policy of Copyright Law In developing the meaning of the statute Judge Keeton ...
- Keeton J explained that "in construing the relevant statutory mandates, the court must be faithful to the statutory language and mindful of both the ultimate goal of copyright law the advancement of public welfare and Congress' chosen method of achieving this goal private reward to the individual author."
- Keeton J. continued on explaining "other elements of expression a decisionmaker may regard as either essential to every expression of an electronic spreadsheet, or at least "obvious" ...
- Borland had argued that it was a "method of operation" ...
Terminology referenced in this essay
copyright law, Lotus 1-2-3, VisiCalc, user interface, Excel, computer software, Software developers,
Technology referenced in this essay
Sports talked about in this essay
Names included in this essay
Judge Robert Keeton, Keeton J., Baker, Altai, Non Copyrightable, Learned Hand, Daniel Bricklin, Mitchell Kapor, Brian F Fitzgerald, VPPlanner, Judge Boudin, Bando Chem, Marty Krofft, Jonathan Sachs, P Samuelson, Arnstein,
Organizations referenced in this essay
Supreme Court., Court of Appeals, United States Court of Appeals, Congress,
Locations referenced in this research paper
United States, Selden, Massachusetts, Washington, Boston, Columbia, Ltd.,
Companies mentioned in this paper
Lotus Development Corporation, Borland International, Inc., Borland International Inc, Computer Associates International, Inc., Altai, Inc., Publishers, Inc., Computer Associates International Inc, Microsoft, Apple, Paperback Software International,
Keywords referenced in this paper
menu, computer programs, command hierarchy, copyrightable, Lotus 123, Lotus 1 2 3, Supreme Court, Lotus Development Corporation, legal test, the lotus, user interface, copyright law,