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Numerical Codes Related to Telecommunication Operations Not Copyrightable
Description Producer of call controllers, devices that automate certain telephone features, cannot claim copyright protection over the digit sequence assigned to operational functions because they are methods of operation and are not original expression.
Topic Cyberlaw
Key Words Copyright, Infringement, Command Codes
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Mitel created a set of four-digit numeric instructions known as command codes to access features of telecommunications hardware known as a call controller. It automates the selection of a long distance carrier and activates optional features, such as speed dialing. Long distance providers buy call controllers and install them on the premises of phone customers. Iqtel, a competitor, produced a call controller that used some of the same values (digit sequences) as Mitel's. This made Iqtel equipment more compatible with Mitel's dominant system. Mitel sued for copyright infringement of its command codes and requested a preliminary injunction against Iqtel.
District Court Decision Injunction denied. Mitel failed to demonstrate a substantial likelihood that it would prevail on the merits of its claim. Command codes are not copyrightable subject matter because they constitute a method of operation, they are unoriginal, and they are dictated by external factors. Even if the codes were protectable, Iqtel's copying was a fair use. Mitel appealed.
Court of Appeals Decision Affirmed. "Mitel has failed to demonstrate that its command codes contain expression that is original and goes beyond the necessary incidents of the ideas which the codes express." The command codes are like menu command hierarchy in computer programs, which are also not copyrightable because they are methods of operation. Further, the command codes lack requisite originality; they are a series of digits that describe settings for things such as baud rates.
Citation Mitel, Inc. v. Iqtel, Inc., ---F.3d--- (1997 WL 583327, 10th Cir.)
124 F. 3d 1366 (10th Cir., 1997)

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