Call To Tighten Copyright Act

Posted on April 30, 1990 
Filed Under Anita, Asia Computer Weekly

by Anita Devasahayam

KUALA LUMPUR: University Malaya law professor Molly Cheang has slammed the country’s present copyright laws as inadequate for the protection of software and computer-related products and urged the government to draft a separate legislative Act for this purpose.

Cheang was speaking at a workshop on Computer Programs and Software organised jointly by the Law Library Consultants, Pikom, Institute of Banks Malaysia and Sweet and Maxwell of London.

The current Copyright Act 1987, Cheang said, was outdated because the legislators who drew up the Act did not envisage new technology at that time and the principles governing the Act were not necessarily the same anymore.

Cheang called for a fresh look at the elements involved in software copyright rather than “moulding the products of history” (referring to the present Copyright Act).

What Is Being Proposed

Present Laws 

  1. Protects Expression Of An Idea 
  2. Prohibits Copying And Reselling Software 
  3. No Protection For Software From Being Upgraded By Others And Labelled As New Software 

Proposals 

  1. Extend Protection For The Basic Idea 
  2. Extend Prohibition To Use Of Pirated Software 
  3. Protection Against Unauthorised Upgrading 

(NOTE: Professor Cheang is calling for a totally new act for software copyright instead of amending the present Copyright Act.)

She proposed that an industrial advisory board be set up to study the matter and draft new laws.

Cheang identified three basic inadequacies in the present law.

First that copyright protection is provided for the expression of an idea but not the basic idea itself. 

“The expression of an idea by the author is protected by law but someone else can adopt the same idea and just re-arrange the structure and subsequently be freed from copyright infringement,” she said.

The second point she brought up was that the law does not adequately address the use of pirated software. “The law prohibits reproduction or adaptation but not the use of a work,” she explained.

The third point is that the law only prevents copying and dealing in copies and not the independent creation of a work which adopts substantially similar features of the original.

Under the Act, a software owner had limited rights which did not protect the owner’s software from being upgraded and viewed as a totally new software

“The amendments done in 1987 were patchwork and do not provide complete protection of software copyright beyond the expression of the idea,” Cheang clarified.

K C Toh, managing director of a local computer firm, Unidata agreed with the proposal for a new law.

“Expression is not a mechanism and protection of the source code and object code is not enough,” he said.

He said that the Copyright Act 1987 was inadequate and that misuse of this Act was stifling the growth of the local software industry.

The Association of Computer Industry Malaysia (Pikom) also supported Cheang’s call for a new Act.

Pikom said that the new Act should address itself on how to react and remain viable in the ever-changing industry.

Published in Asia Computer Weekly, Apr 30, 1990.

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