by Jeremy Malcolm, Internet lawyer
A reader of this column recently asked me, "When a company no longer offer support for their product and are unable to supply a original version does copyright law still apply? If so does the length of copyright coverage diminish or still remain at 50 years?"
The answer is that copyright law does still apply for the full period for which the software was originally protected. In Australia, this is normally 50 years from the date of publication (or the date of the author's death, if applicable). Under the recent Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement, the period of protection is set to be increased to between 70 and 120 years.
What a copyright owner can do, rather than allowing a product to become unsupported, is to put it into the public domain or to release it under a free software licence, which allows anyone to use it unconditionally. This is not unprecedented; it happened for example in 2002 with the 3D graphics software named Blender when its authors went out of business.
Another reader also recently wrote to me with a copyright question, asking, "Is it legal to rip/encode a song from a CD you have bought?" In the United States it is, but not currently in Australia. However in practice, music copyright owners are more concerned about people copying music that they don't own!