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Assigning Your Copyright to Another? Legal Advice is Mandatory!

Copyright in computer software generally belongs to those who write it. Such rights can be assigned to others, but a High Court case concerning a commercially successful financial trading program showed exactly why such intricate deals should never be attempted without specialist legal advice.

There was no dispute that the software was the brainchild of a particular designer. Although he conceded that he had assigned his copyright in two early versions of the software to a company, he claimed to still hold the copyright in a later version (version three). The company accepted that, if it had not been assigned rights to version three, then it had infringed the designer’s copyright.

In ruling on the principal issue in the case, the Court focused on the wording of the assignment agreement and attached little weight to subjective evidence as to what was at the time in the minds of those who negotiated it. The Court found that the word ‘software’, as used in the agreement, encompassed version three and that the company thus owned the copyright in all three versions.