Programming languages can't be copyrighted: EU court

Summary:The European Court of Justice has ruled in favour of World Programming Limited over the SAS Institute in a case hinging on whether programming languages can be copyrighted

The highest court in the European Union issued a ruling on Wednesday that essentially declared programming languages are not copyrightable.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled in favour of World Programming Limited (WPL) over the SAS Institute, which developed the SAS System, an integrated set of programs that enables users to carry out data processing and analysis tasks.

WPL replicated these functionalities with its World Programming System, an emulator that can run SAS programs written in the SAS Language. Although existing UK case law said it was not a copyright infringement to create such an emulator, SAS took its case to the High Court. It was then referred to the ECJ.

"The Court holds that neither the functionality of a computer program nor the programming language and the format of data files used in a computer program in order to exploit certain of its functions constitute a form of expression. Accordingly, they do not enjoy copyright protection," the Court ruled. 

For more on this ZDNet UK-selected story, see E.U. court rules programming languages not copyrightable on

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Topics: Legal, Security


Rachel King is a staff writer for CBS Interactive based in San Francisco, covering business and enterprise technology for ZDNet, CNET and SmartPlanet. She has previously worked for The Business Insider,, CNN's San Francisco bureau and the U.S. Department of State. Rachel has also written for, Irish Americ... Full Bio

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