The Indian telephone system, the Soviet Five-Year plan and the American legal system have a lot in common: all three are enormous, ramshackle and most of the time fail to deliver what their creators intended. It is therefore certain that the copyright infringement suit brought by Lotus Development Corp against Paperback Software of Berkeley, California, and Mosaic Software of Cambridge, Massachusetts over their rewrites of the Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet program (CI No 597) is certain to drag through the courts for years. Which is unfortunate, because the eventual outcome of the case will have very serious implications for the world software industry. Lotus is suing Paperback over its VP Planner and Mosaic over its The Twin spreadsheet programs not because it believes that the designers slavishly copied the code of 1-2-3 but because the budget programs present on the screen the names, commands and user interface of 1-2-3, so that a user familiar with the Lotus program will feel equally at home with either of the competitors. Recent court rulings have tentatively declared that the user interface of a program is copyrightable, but on the face of it, if the underlying code of the program bears no similarity to that of the original, the most that the perpetrators could be required to do is to pay a royalty on each copy sold – as one might when one pinched a tune or remade a film.
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