Apple Computer, Inc. v. Franklin Computer Corp.
714 F.2d 1240 (3d Cir. 1983)

  • Franklin began making computers that were 'compatible' with Apple computers. This required that they have the same operating software. Franklin copied Apple's operating software. Apple sued for copyright infringement.
    • Franklin did not dispute that it copied Apple's software, but they argued that the software was not copyrightable.
    • Franklin argued that the operating system was a method or process, and those aren't copyrightable.
      • See Baker v. Selden (101 U.S. 99 (1879)).
    • Franklin argued that since the computer didn't work without the operating system, it was part of the machine, and so was more properly covered by patent law than copyright law.
    • Franklin argued that the only way to make their computer work was to copy Apple's operating system exactly. Since there was only one expression that could be used to express that particular idea, then the expression could not be copyrighted.
      • aka the doctrine of merger.
  • The Trial Court found for Franklin. Apple appealed.
  • The Appellate Court reversed.
    • The Appellate Court rejected the method/process argument and found that even though the operating system was a set of instructions for making a computer work, it was still copyrightable.
    • The Court found that even though the operating system was part of what made the computer work, the statutory definition of a computer program in 17 U.S.C. 101 did not differentiate between the operating system and other applications programs (which were already held to be copyrightable).
    • The Court found that there was evidence suggesting that there were other possible ways to write the operating system, so there wasn't a single expression, and the doctrine of merger didn't apply.
  • Franklin could have theoretically done some reverse engineering and developed their own program that was still interoperable with Apple's products, but they chose instead to take the cheaper and easier route of just taking what Apple had created. That was economically efficient for Franklin, but it didn't justify their actions.