Legal Protection of Software: A handbook

April 30, 2004

The joint authors of this work have an impeccable pedigree. Richard Morgan is an IT consultant and was for many years Computer Officer at the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Kit Burden is a partner in Barlow Lyde & Gilbert, Solicitors. Together they wrote the latest edition of the seminal work “Morgan and Stedman on Computer Contracts”.

The writers say in the introduction that they intend the book to “be an aid for non-lawyers within the software industry and those within the IT functions of large and medium sized corporations”. They also say that there are “plenty of books which provide a standard description of intellectual property rights, but we felt we could help the software industry better by showing, at each stage of software development and marketing, what the software owner should do to perfect and ultimately defend those rights”. The contents include intellectual property rights, confidentiality and know-how, recruiting staff for software products, commissioning software, specifications, programming and testing, updates and documentation, licensing software and the enforcement of intellectual property rights.

I was interested to see the precedent of the Application Service Provider (ASP) Licence. This precedent kicks off with the helpful comment that “certain ASP contracts omit any reference to a licence being granted at all, and instead simply refer to the provision of a software-based ‘service'”. They go on to say that this is “largely an exercise in semantics and so for the sake of consistency we have continued to refer to the grant of a licence”. Good. Nicely put.

Regrets? I have a few and they mostly relate to the layout of the book. There are nine useful precedents but instead of being listed together they appear after the relevant chapter. This does not help the person diving into the book trying to find an appropriate precedent. I can see the logic of grouping text and precedents together but I do not think that it is too much to expect the reader of the text to refer to the back of the book to find the related precedent. Secondly, in an apparent attempt to save the repetition of text, there is a large amount of cross-referencing within the text of precedents to other precedents. However, to read the ASP licence referred to earlier you have to cross-refer on no less than eight occasions to the earlier precedent of the single software licence. Ironically, if you wanted to use this precedent it would be easier to start with the single software licence and make the appropriate changes to that. Personally, I think that it would be easier for the reader if each of the precedents were set out in full even if this means that there is an element of repetition.

Nevertheless, these are mild reservations. Overall, this is a very good book and I commend it to the reader. The book has 202 pages and costs £38.

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Jeremy Holt is the head of the computer law group at Clark Holt, Commercial Solicitors (