"As with anything, the nature of copyright is not black and
white — there are not just shades of gray, but a whole
rainbow of copyright colors.
"One item to clarify before going forward: copyrights should not
be confused with patents, which are even more contentious,
especially in the software world. Copyright, at least in the United
States, is automatic — copyright attaches to content as soon
as it is created. (The option exists to register ones copyright,
but doing so provides protections in addition to those imparted
automatically.) Copyright protects creations — written
material, works of art, musical compositions, etc. — from
being used or claimed by others, much the way trespassing laws
protect ones home from being used or claimed by others and a whole
host of laws protect ones children from the same.
"Patents also involve creations — inventions,
advancements, and technologies. Like copyright, they prevent
unauthorized use, in their case of an invention, but do so for a
limited time. Unlike copyright, they are not automatically attached
at creation, and indeed, may not be granted at all. Patents are
something of a reward for openness — an ironic twist
considering their use, we admit — the patent holder can only
be granted exclusive use of their creation by patent after they
reveal the details of their invention to the public at large. (The
etymological root of patent is patere, meaning "to be open.")"