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WHELAN ASSOCIATES INC. V. JASLOW DENTAL LABORATORY INC.

230 US PQ 481 (1986)

FACTS:
Rand Jaslow unsuccessfully attempted to develop his own system for the IBM Series 1 using
the BASIC programming language in order to handle customer management, billing accounting,
inventory management and other functions for Jaslow Dental Laboratories. As a consequence,
he had to hire Strohl Systems for that job.

Meanwhile, Elaine Whelan, a co-owner of Strohl Systems, developed custom programs in EDL
language for Jaslow’s IBM Series 1 computer system. The software she built was kept under
the ownership of Strohl, was branded Dentalab, and can be licensed to other companies in
exchange for a 10 % commission to Jaslow. Whelan later left Strohl and set up her own
business, acquiring right to the software.

Jaslow terminated the marketing agreement with Whelan and formed a company named
Dentcom where he used a surreptitiously obtained copy of the EDL source code, adapted it for
the IBM PC and marketed the adapted program under a similar name called Dentlab. Whelan
sued for copyright infringement.

ISSUE:
Whether Jaslow is guilty of copyright infringement over the subject program or not

HELD:
Yes. The court held that (1) although Jaslow explained to Whelan how a dental lab worked, he
was not a co-author of the program; Whelan alone was the author of both the source and object
code; (2) Jaslow’s use of the EDL source code to develop a competitive product, even though
not a literal translation, was a copyright infringement.

“The idea of a computerized system to control the operations of a dental lab is not subject to
copyright. The particular expression of the idea created and fixed in the plaintiff’s IBM-Series 1
Dentalab system, however, is the one copyrightable, and the evidence demonstrates that
defendants actually did copy that expression in writing the source and object codes for their
IBM-PC Dentcom system.

The Third Circuit upheld the trial court's finding of copyright infringement based upon the
defendant's copying of the "structure, sequence and organization" of plaintiff's software. While
recognizing that copyright protection does not extend to the "idea" or functionality of the
program, the court found that similarities in the file structures, screen outputs and certain
subroutines, while not comprising a majority of the total number of lines of code in defendant's
software, were similarities in "expression," and therefore constituted copyright infringement.

In so finding, the court set forth a test for determining the line between unprotectable ideas and
the protectable expression of those ideas which test favors finding protectable expression:

“[T]he line between idea and expression may be drawn with reference to the end sought to be
achieved by the work in question. In other words, the purpose or function of a utilitarian work
would be the work's idea, and everything that is not necessary to that purpose or function would
be part of the expression of the idea.”

In applying the above rule, the appellate court quoted from the District Court record:

“Different computer systems may functionally serve similar purposes without being copies of
each other. There is evidence in the record that there are other software programs for the
business management of dental laboratories in competition with plaintiff's program. There is no
contention that any of them infringe although they may incorporate many of the ideas and
functions.