European Union Court Rules that Software Functions Cannot Be Copyrighted

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In a recent decision, SAS Institute Inc. v. World Programming Ltd., the Court of Justice of the European Union held that “[s]ince a program’s functionality, its programming language and the format of its data files, are merely elements of a program as opposed to expressions that would enable it to be reproduced, they are outside the scope of protection afforded by the Software Directive.”

SAS Institute alleged copyright infringement by World Programming after World Programming developed a competing set of programs that enabled users to run World Programming programs with the original SAS Institute system.

The European High Court stated that if a third party obtains parts of a source code or object code relating to the programming language or data files in a particular program, then use of that code to create similar elements in a competing computer program could be considered copyright infringement. In this case, however, World Programming had no access to the SAS Institute source code, but merely observed and studied the SAS Institute system. Furthermore, World Programming used legally obtained copies of the SAS Institute system. Thus, World Programming did not infringe SAS’ copyright.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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