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Please join The GW Center for Law and Technology for their second Speaker Series event of the 2024 Spring semester! On Monday, February 12th at noon in the Burns Moot Court Room. Charles Duan, Assistant Professor of Law at the American University Washington College of Law, will be discussing his work, "What is Copyrightable in Software?"

Charles Duan is an assistant professor of law at the American University Washington College of Law, where he teaches intellectual property matters. 

Charles’ research focuses on the interception of intellectual property, technology law, public policy, and public interest. Some topics Charles has written on include patent law, copyright protection, drug pricing, and conflicts between intellectual property and regulations. 

His work has appeared in journals such as the Santa Clara High Technology Law Journal. Further, he has authored over two hundred amicus curiae briefs, policy papers, administrative comments, and media articles, which have been cited by both the Supreme Court and federal courts of appeal.

Charles served as a postdoctoral fellow at Cornell Tech as well as a research fellow at Colorado Law School. He also served as a patent attorney at Knobbe Martens.


This talk explores the relationship between software and copyright law.  Identifying the types of computer code that is eligible for copyright protection has historically been a difficult task.  While the Copyright Act explicitly recognizes that software code constitutes a “written work,” it excludes certain types from protection (e.g. methods of operation). 

Charles notes that if a computer code is always considered “a method of operating a computer” the Copyright Act would contain an internal contradiction.  Charles' paper discusses numerous nonfunctional, expressive elements, that would constitute more than a simple method of operation.  This includes: source code comments, syntactic alternatives, bound-variable names, and ordering of variable declarations.  These do not impact a computer’s performance of operations.  Charles' paper argues as such these types of codes are appropriate for copyright protection.  Further Charles has noted that this type of work is especially important in the age of AI wherein these tools can create code in seconds that often mirror closely or identically to human-authored code.

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