The European Court of Justice, last week held that the functionality and programming language of a software falls outside the scope of copyright protection. The Complainant, SAS Institute had alleged that World Programming Limited (WPL) infringed their copyright by developing a system that copied the company’s manuals.
The brief facts of the case are: SAS Institute, based in North Carolina makes computer programs related to statistical analysis, data processing and so on. The main component of their program enables the user to run an application that has been written in a language developed by SAS Institute. WPL had acquired a license from SAS to use the learning edition of the SAS system, and eventually developed a software that had the same functionality aspect similar to the one that SAS owns. As a result, a program run using SAS components and through WPL’s system were similar. The court while deciding the case categorically stated that Copyright protection doesn’t extend to the functionality of a computer program or the programming language and the format of a program’s data files.
The decision of the Court highlights the long established principle that copyright protection does not extend to ideas or principles, but covers only expression of those ideas.
Despite the fact that WPL had analysed and studied SAS’s program to develop its product, there was “nothing to suggest that WPL had access to or copied the source code of the SAS components”. The Court further held, ” The purchaser of a license for a program is entitled, as a rule, to observe, study or test its functioning so as to determine the ideas and principles which underlie that program.”
As Jennifer Baker suggests, ” This in effect leaves the door open for other software companies to “reverse engineer” programs in many cases without fear of infringing copyright“.
Contributed by Aruna Mukundd
Image from here