Copyright doesn't cover programming languages, court rules

A High Court judge has ruled that copyright law does not prevent the copying of programming languages, interfaces or program functions, but has asked the European Court of Justice to back him up on the matter.On Friday, the Hon Mr Justice Arnold made his rulings in the case of the SAS Institute versus World Programming Limited (WPL), a small company that had created an emulator of the SAS System prompting a suit from the analytical software giant.

A High Court judge has ruled that copyright law does not prevent the copying of programming languages, interfaces or program functions, but has asked the European Court of Justice to back him up on the matter.

On Friday, the Hon Mr Justice Arnold made his rulings in the case of the SAS Institute versus World Programming Limited (WPL), a small company that had created an emulator of the SAS System prompting a suit from the analytical software giant.

The SAS System nets the company in the region of $2.3bn (£1.5bn) a year. Those building applications for the system have to license the SAS Language, which led WPL to think there may be a market for an emulator — which it called the World Programming System (WPS) — to replicate the functionality of the components of the SAS System.

"There is no suggestion that in doing so WPL had access to the source code of the SAS Components or that WPL have copied any of the text of the source code of the SAS Components or that WPL have copied any of the structural design of the source code of the SAS Components," the court transcript reads.

In making his judgement, Arnold drew on two previous judgements that also said it was "not an infringement of the copyright in the source code of a computer program for a competitor of the copyright owner to study how the program functions and then to write its own program to emulate that functionality".

Arnold made the following rulings, and has asked the ECJ to confirm that he was right to do so:

- copyright in computer programs does not protect programming languages from being copied - copyright in computer programs does not protect interfaces from being copied where this can be achieved without decompiling the object code - copyright in computer programs does not protect the functions of the programs from being copied

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