After the $1 billion purchase of Instagram, (well, probably a bit less now since the purchase was tied with Facebook’s stock price), it’s probably fair to say that many of us will now dream of being an app developer (this writer certainly does), holding out hope that our app will either be a) successful or b) bought out by a bigger company. The popularity of smartphones and tablet devices has bred a certain amount of familiarity with technology and apps which form the heartbeat of such devices, and not only are not apps easy to use. They must also be easy to build too, right? Well, let’s just say that if you have either built an app or have a great app idea and wish to protect your intellectual property in relation to the app. The obvious question would be: How can a person protect the copyright of a mobile app?
Can apps be copyrighted?
Before we explore the question of whether an app can be copyrighted, we should start off with the question of can apps be protected by copyright law in the first place?
The Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) (the Act) makes reference to computer software being afforded copyright protection, so it also conceivable that the protections may also extend to mobile apps as well.
What are some of the basic requirements for copyright protection of an app?
In order for an app to be capable of protection, it must meet the following general requirements:
The app must be the result of your own skill and effort: the overarching aspect of this requirement is that the app must have been built from an idea that you have developed. Even if your own creation has similarities to another app, this may not be an issue if the app was a result of your own skill and effort.
The app must be ‘novel’ or original: sure your app may have similar functions and fulfils the same niche as another in either the Android Play Store or iTunes, there still needs to be a demonstration of some utility and function which makes it ‘novel’ or original. The app doesn’t necessarily have to break the mould in any way for it to be novel or original, but that certainly would help.
The app must be ‘published’ and reduced to a material form: it may be enough for a person to have submitted the app for approval for it to be considered as ‘published’, but beyond that? Your app may still meet the publishable and reduced to material form criteria. We should also highlight that there is no requirement that your app needs to by the type of app which needs to be purchased for it to be protected. Even free apps that meet all the conditions spelled out in the Act will be protected.
That’s the basic requirements for copyright which is obviously a burgeoning area. If you have any questions or concerns about any intellectual property matter, always seek the help of an experienced intellectual property lawyer to ensure your creation is adequately protected.
Also, if you do have a winning app idea, you should probably keep it to yourself.