Copyright Law Constraints on the Transfer of Certain Federal Computer Software With Commercial Applications

T-RCED-91-91: Published: Sep 13, 1991. Publicly Released: Sep 13, 1991.

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GAO discussed the current copyright law's constraints on six federal agencies efforts to transfer federal computer software. GAO noted that: (1) although the agencies primarily developed software with little commercial application, they believed that existing copyright laws constrained their efforts to transfer software with broad commercial applications; (2) officials at four agencies estimated that at least 10 percent of their laboratories' software has potential commercial applications that could have important technological and economic benefits to the Nation; (3) although three agencies reported that they entered into 472 cooperative research and development (R&D) agreements as of September 1991, only three of those agreements had a major software component, and one agency reported that 59 of the 141 cooperative R&D agreements it entered into involved computer software; (4) the authority to copyright and share royalties could provide federal computer programmers with recognition opportunities, improve public access to federal software, and ensure improved public health and safety; (5) some federal laboratory managers believed that copyrighting and licensing federal computer software could interfere with exchanges between federal and university scientists, and existing information dissemination policies; and (6) effective software transfer could be achieved by amending the copyright law to provide agencies the authority to copyright and license computer software with commercial applications or to allow federal agencies to copyright and grant software licenses developed under cooperative R&D agreements.

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