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Of People Not Machines: Authorship, Copyright and the Computer Programmer

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Abstract (in English): 

Authorship of computer programs merits close attention, on one level, because it illustrates what is one of my more general observations about the relationship between ideas of authorship in law and the "digital arts": its complexity. The sphere of "digital arts" is characterised by a multiplicity of creative practices and consequently a diversity of ideas about “authorship”, which resist simplistic conclusions as to what the challenge of the digital should mean for law. At the same time, the status of computer programmers as authors draws attention to what for modern lawyers is likely to be an unexpected and counter-intuitive observation about certain aspects of the relation between digital art and law: far from always a source of challenge, the discourses of authorship in the "digital arts" can also provide the law with assistance. Indeed, as we will see, in humanising technology and exalting the computer programmer as a creative poet, certain discourses of digital art can in fact provide coherence and legitimacy to legal concepts of authorship, rather than challenging them. This paper starts with an outline of the ideas surrounding authorship of computer programs as revealed in the interviews conducted so far, before turning to consider their implications for the concept of authorship of a computer program contained in law.

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Elisabeth Nesheim