Tonight I spent some time reading Paula Samuelson’s The Uneasy Case for Software Copyrights Revisited. If you don’t know who Paula Samuelson is, you should. She’s been a hugely influential voice in the world of IP and software.
And you should know that this is a law review article (put differently, set aside some time to read it, preferably with a glass of wine or something). But if you have any interest in the history of intellectual property law and its intersection with software, Samuelson’s article will give you a great summary of the major industry and legal developments over the past forty years — where we were and how we got here.
And it’s a little meta too (so you get to feel like you’re part of the academy) in that Samuelson’s article starts with another law review article written by Stephen Breyer way back in the early 1970s (yes, that Stephen Breyer) questioning whether copyright was really a good vehicle for encouraging software developers to invest in software development. Breyer was equivocal about it, believing that it may not even be necessary considering the growth the industry experienced (even back in the 1960s).
In Samuelson’s 2011 article, The Uneasy Case for Software Copyrights Revisited, the Berkeley Law prof reviews Breyer’s predictions and generally concludes that those predictions landed very close to their marks.
In the process, Samuelson takes you on a whirlwind ride through some of the most famous cases in software history; and despite the fact that many of those cases are ancient history in Internet time, the law is exceedingly relevant in very recent cases like Google v. Oracle.
So get yourself a glass of wine and read it!