Source code can't be copyrighted - EU

2011-11-29 18:13

Luxembourg - A computer programming language cannot be protected by copyright, the adviser to the EU's top court said on Tuesday in an opinion that could affect the competitive IT industry.

Advocate general Yves Bot argued that programming languages - different digital vocabularies such as HTML and Java used to make a computer perform certain tasks - should be compared to the language used by a novelist.

The functionalities of a computer programme should also not be eligible for copyright, Bot said, adding that they are the equivalent of ideas and that protecting them would "amount to making it possible to monopolise ideas".

The advocate general's opinions are not binding but the Luxembourg-based European Union Court of Justice follows his advice in 80%of cases.

The opinion arises from a case pitting North Carolina-based SAS Institute, which provides business analytics software and services, against British software firm World Programming.

SAS launched a complaint in Britain against WPL after the US company created a product that can execute programmes written in SAS language.

The High Court of Justice in Britain asked the EU judges to issue a preliminary ruling to clarify the scope of EU legal protection for computer programmes.

"The functionalities of a computer programme and the programming language cannot be protected by copyright," Bot said.

Bot said however that copyright can cover "the means for achieving the concrete expression" of the functionalities.

"The way in which formulae and algorithms are arranged - like the style in which the computer program is written - will be likely to reflect the author’s own intellectual creation and therefore be eligible for protection," he said.

But the holder of a programme licence can reproduce or translate a source code without the author's authorisation, under certain conditions, so as to ensure different elements of a programme work together, Bot said.

  • Shalin - 2011-11-29 18:42

    Fail title. Source code is not programming language.

  • Gammat - 2011-11-29 19:11


  • danie.dejager - 2011-11-29 19:44

    Really bad title!

  • 1qaz2wsx3e - 2011-11-29 20:14

    No, you have got the story all wrong, it's NOT that source code can't be copyrighted, it's that software ideas can't be copyrighted. U.S. computer software company SAS Institute cannot claim copyright protection for the functions performed by its programs, which have been replicated by a rival, an adviser to Europe's highest court said. The functions were replicated, there was no access to the source code. Read the Reuters article and it will make more sense.

      Johan - 2011-11-29 20:50

      OK, that makes more sense.

      StirMonger - 2011-11-30 11:38

      It does indeed. Whoever wrote the above article should keep away from such subjects & stick to music.

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