Computer technology plays an increasingly important part in modern society. Computers – electronic machines with an ability to store up and/or process data – are called hardware. The expansion of hardware is astonishing: computers are more potent and computer technology enters more areas of life, not only in technological environments as well as, but also in more ordinary surroundings such as domestic appliances, cars, watches and similar products.
A computer cannot function without instructions. These instructions may be embedded into the hardware, for example in ROMs, but most frequently they are created, reproduced as well as distributed in media which are separate from the computer hardware. Computer programs for personal computers are distributed on diskettes or CD-ROMs. Computer programs are created in a programming language which can be understood by people trained in that language. That form of appearance of the program, which can be on the computer screen or printed out on paper, is usually referred to as the source code. Another form of appearance is called object code, where the program is transferred into the digital values 0 and 1. In this form the program is incomprehensible for persons, but it is machine readable, for example from a diskette and in that form it can be used really to organize the operations of the computer.
Typically the computer hardware as well as the program needs to be supplemented by manuals and other support material, prepared by the producer of the program, which give the essential instructions and reference material for more advanced uses of the program. The program plus such reference material and manuals are referred to as computer software.
The investment needed for the formation of computer programs is often very heavy as well as their protection against unauthorized copying and use is of crucial significance. Without such protection producers of computer programs would not be capable to recoup their investment and so the creation and development of this decisive side of computer technology would be jeopardized. In countries which have not yet provided adequate protection, it is often only possible to obtain foreign programs which are not adapted to the specific needs of those countries. It is difficult to secure the financing of the essential translations and local adaptations. Computer viruses tend to be much more extensive in countries with inadequate protection, because they are distributed with pirated software which is not subject to the equal quality control as authorized products.
It is vital for national legislation to make sure enough protection of computer programs. Even in cases where local translations or adaptations are not essential, such protection improves access to the most advanced as well as the best suited software, since producers plus distributors are only unwillingly releasing their precious products in countries where rampant piracy can be expected.