In the United States, federal law in the form of the Copyright Act of 1976 grants five rights to the owner of any form of art which is original, nontrivial, and exists in a tangible medium of expression for more than a transitory amount of time. These rights are: You don't have to register your work with the Copyright office in order to benefit from these rights, nor even place a copyright notice (the little (c) 2001, eg) on it. However, if you don't register the work, you cannot sue if someone else rips off or profits from your work. The reason we have the office (which is a part of the Library of Congress) is that the public has access to registration records. If your work isn't registered, how is anyone to know that it actually belongs to you?

You can get a copyright registration form for free from the Library of Congress, either by ordering one off their website, or by calling their form request hotline. (No, I don't know the number, I'll post it here with a quickness if I can find it out) Finally, your tax dollars going towards something useful.

Parts of this law make it illegal to copy software. This is a hotly debated topic surrounding a key aspect of the way we use computers: When you buy a piece of software, do you then own the software or do you merely licence the use of the software from the publisher?

Currently, Software Piracy is defined as making copies of software other than as the licence agreement states. Often this does not include making a backup for "personal purposes".

A common argument is that software piracy and theft will dwindle when the price of software decreases. Others say that the price is so high because of the crime rates: a vicious circle.

An example is a company that buys a copy of some software to use across its network, but runs more copies of the software than it has licences for. Many users do not realise that this is illegal!

Another example is the man who downloads software from the Internet and uses a CD-Recorder to burn his own copies of software packages in order to sell them for profit. This is illegal, even though it probably doesn't harm the software industry as a whole—most of the people who buy cut-price software would not be able to afford legitimate copies in the first place.

Broadly speaking, the present laws make it illegal to copy software, use copied software or transfer software down a phone line (thereby making a copy). A grey area is drawn over the situation of macros though. A macro is a piece of software embedded in a document, so is it illegal to copy it? It is also presently illegal to do what is known as Cracking, which includes altering a piece of software so that it runs when previously it wouldn't.

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