Colloquium: Gerardo Con Diaz: American Copyright Law and the Many Natures of Software


In the 1970s, the United States Copyright Office considered software to be a kind of book or pamphlet. This changed in 1980, when Congress passed the Computer Software Copyright Act, thereby establishing software as a new kind of creative work in its own right. By then, however, people ranging from programmers to novelists had advanced their own conceptions of the nature of software in an effort to shape the software industry?s relationships with the law. In their hands, software could be anything from a text or an algorithm, to a machine best suited for patents, not copyrights. In this talk, I show how copyright law in the 1970s served as a battleground for conceptions of the nature of software that had emerged in tandem with the software products industry. The study of these competing conceptions enables a new way of thinking about the history of software, one that focuses on the discursive emergence of information technologies as distinct entities.

Gerardo Con Diaz is a Ph.D. candidate in the Program for the History of Science and Medicine at Yale University and a Resident Fellow at Yale Law School?s Information Society Project. His dissertation, a history of software patenting in the United States, exemplifies his broader project of using intellectual property law as a narrowing lens for the historical study of software. Con Diaz holds an M.Phil. in History and Philosophy of Science from Cambridge University (Trinity College) and a B.A. in Mathematics from Harvard University. This academic year, he holds research fellowships at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the Charles Babbage Institute, and the Lemelson Center for Invention and Innovation at the Smithsonian.


4:15am to 5:30am


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