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Tandy Corp. v. Personal Micro Computers

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Citation Edit

Tandy Corp. v. Personal Micro Computers, Inc., 524 F. Supp. 171 (N.D. Cal. 1981) (full-text).

Factual Background Edit

Tandy Corp. created an I/O software program ("input-output routine"), which translated high-level commands and programing languages to machine code to make their personal computer ("Radio Shack TRS-80") run. This software was imprinted permanently on a silicon chip in the TRS-80. Defendant created a computer named "PMC-80," with a similar silicon chip with substantially similar I/O software. Plaintiff's software was copied completely, only the names "Tandy" and "Radio Shack" were changed.

Trial Court Proceedings Edit

The defendant brought a motion to dismiss Tandy Corporation's copyright infringement claim. Although plaintiff set forth five causes of action (copyright infringement, unfair competition under federal and state law, assumpsit, and interference with prospective advantage), defendant's motion and the court's decision centered on Plaintiff's copyright infringement claim.

The infringed work was alleged to be the computer program affixed in a silicon chip as ROM (read-only memory).

Chief Judge Peckham held that: (1) a computer program is a "work of authorship" that is subject to copyright and the silicon chip upon which program is imprinted is a "tangible medium of expression"; and (2) the theory that the silicon chip upon which a properly copyrighted computer program was imprinted was duplicated by first taking a visual display or printout of program, making a copy of that display or printout, and then having the program imprinted onto a silicon chip could constitute a copyright infringement claim based on unauthorized duplication and, if proven, was within reach of federal copyright laws.

Defendant claimed that the vague language of 17 U.S.C. §117 (pre-1980 amendment) required the court to use the 1909 Copyright Act, instead of the 1976 Copyright Act to determine whether software printed on a ROM chip was a "copy." The court found clear evidence in the legislative history that this section, although intended to revert other sections to their pre-1976 Act counterparts, was not intended to revert 17 U.S.C. §101 or §102.

As such, the court held that ROM-based software was copyrightable under the Section 102 of the 1976 Copyright Act, which held that fixation can occur in "any tangible medium of expression, now known or later developed, from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device."[1]

In reviewing the legislative history of Section 117, the court found that its intended application was to narrowly address the issue of people inputting literary works such as books, magazines and even software to protect copyrights. Conversely, it found that allowing the bit-for-bit copying of another's software, regardless of the medium of fixation was a clear misreading of this section, and contrary to the drafters' intent. ROM copies were held to be a tangible medium of expression protected by federal copyright law given a proper reading of Section 117.

The court also rejected the defendant's claim that it should follow a then-recent Illinois District Court case which had held against the copyrightability of ROM copies.[2] The court criticized the Data Cash decision as unfounded on reason or merit.

Comment Edit

Plaintiff asserted that the defendant copied the software affixed on the silicon chip by a photochemical method, which essentially means they took a picture of the data and imprinted it onto their chips. The court commented that if this were proven to be the method of copying, defendant's conduct could be found to be a violation of plaintiff's reproduction rights in a pictoral/graphical (visual) work. But the court did not pursue further this line of reasoning, because it had already addressed the substantive issues of the motion.

References Edit

  1. 17 U.S.C. §102(a).
  2. Data Cash Sys., Inc. v. JS&A Group, Inc., 480 F. Supp. 1063 (N.D. Ill. 1979) (full-text).

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