Court Rules RAM Infringes Copyright

Only the owner of a software program can run it without infringing the developer's copyright, according to a February 1996 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. The decision could make independent computer service companies illegal.

In Southeastern Express Co. vs. Triad Systems Corp., the Supreme Court rejected without comment an appeal of a federal judge's decision. The judge had ruled that Southeastern infringed on Triad's copyrights by servicing Triad computers. To service a computer, Southeastern would load Triad's operating system software into RAM, thus making an infringing copy of the software, even though the original was licensed by the computer's owner and the copy was temporary.

As one friend-of-the-court brief said, "The 9th Circuit's misinterpretation of copyright law will prevent independent service companies from competing with manufacturers."

This is another example of technology outpacing the law. While copyrights and patents may have a place, their extension into digital media are not obvious.

Source: February 26, 1996, Associated Press article, "Computer service firms at risk in court order."