In the opinion of the United States federal courts, digital software embodied in a computer’s Random Access Memory (RAM) is sufficiently fixed to constitute a “reproduction” under the Copyright Act. As a reproduction, the creation of the RAM embodiment, or the loading of software into RAM, is a potential copyright infringement. However, a close reading of the Act and its legislative history reveals that a digital work embodied in RAM should not be considered a reproduction of the work. Furthermore, including digital works embodied in RAM as reproductions is a poor fit in light of the policy behind the Copyright Act. This would mean that every time a person opens a computer program, he or she might be infringing a copyright. The courts’ widely criticized finding can be explained, at least in part, by early law makers’ confusion about computer memory and inability to fit RAM into previous constructs. Courts and law makers have built on each others’ flawed or non-existent analysis of RAM embodiments as reproductions since the 1976 Act was being drafted. These approaches ignored the purpose behind the fixation requirement when interpreting it. Since digital embodiments in RAM do little harm to a copyright holder, their categorization as reproductions is not consistent with the policy behind the fixation requirement for reproductions.

In response to the intuitive incorrectness of the current law and its contradiction with the policy behind copyright law, critics have made several arguments against finding an embodiment in RAM to be an infringement. Critics argue that RAM embodiments should be afforded one of the defenses of fair use, copyright misuse, or per section 117(1), that the copying is an essential step in the program’s utilization. This paper, however, focuses on another argument born of the same policy considerations: That a RAM embodiment is not sufficiently fixed to be a reproduction under the Copyright Act’s definitions.

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