Commission must pay 12m euros in copyright case

The European Commission has been ordered to pay damages of over €12m to a machine translation software company in a copyright infringement case
Written by Jack Clark, Contributor

The European Commission has been hit with a fine after a European court found the Commission had infringed the copyright of machine translation software company Systran.

On Thursday the General Court of the European Union ruled that the Commission had infringed Systran's copyright by allowing work on a system developed by the company. The Commission has been ordered to pay damages of €12m (£10m).

Systran developed machine translation software named EC-Systran Unix for the Commission between 1997 and 2002. The Commission put out a call for tenders in 2003 to develop this software, according to a General Court statement (PDF), after which the work was awarded to a third party.

Systran and its parent company Systran Luxembourg brought an action for damages on the grounds that the Commission had unlawfully disclosed 'know-how' of the EC-Systran Unix system to the company that won the tender. The Commission's call for tenders, published 4 October, 2003, sought a contractor who would introduce "enhancements, adaptations and additions to linguistic routines", "specific improvements to analysis, transfer and synthesis programs" and "system updates" to the Commission's machine translation system.

The court ruled that EC-Systran Unix bore "substantial similarity, in the core material and certain linguistic routines" to the company's self-developed translation software, called Systran Unix. As a consequence, Systran had a claim on the copyright of EC-Systran Unix, because it contained technologies originally implemented in Systran Unix.

"Systran has proved that, contrary to the claims of the Commission, the alterations requested by the call for tenders require access to elements of the EC-Systran Unix version which are taken from the version Systran Unix and require their alteration," the court statement said.

The total amount of the fine is €12,001,000. Of that, €7m is compensation for the fees the Commission would have paid to Systran between 2004 and 2010 for intellectual property rights, €5m is compensation for the effect the Commission's conduct may have had on Systran's turnover between 2004 and 2010, while €1,000 is for non-material damages, according to court documents in French.

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