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Thursday, December 8, 2011

Europe Discussed Software Copyright

European advisory body to the Europe’s highest court has recently claimed that an American computer software giant wasn’t able to claim copyright protection for the functions performed by its software that had been copied by a rival.

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Today the experts consider the SAS Institute case a crucial one for the EU digital industry. The case in question may determine how the companies create products able to work with rival services while avoiding the copyright infringement. The industry observers predict that a lot will depend on how far the American idea, where people are able to patent something blindingly obvious and later sue the others who actually invent things, has soaked into the legal system of the European Union.

Thus far it seems that the European Union is somewhere on the very edge of common sense. Meanwhile, the non-binding opinion by Yves Bot, who is an advocate-general at the EU Court of Justice located at Luxembourg, corresponds with a decision reached by the High Court of England and Wales in July 2010. The court will deliver its ruling on the case in 2012.

The story is the following: SAS Institute sued World Programming back in 2009, claiming that the Blighty software company had infringed its copyrights by copying its functions and manuals to the programs. However, this would have been tricky, because WPL had been developing its own products without having access to the SAS’s source code. The company argued that it didn’t change anything, because the content seemed to be similar and it got there first.

English and Welsh courts recommended SAS Institute to sling its hook, handing down the decision saying the underlying functions performed by programs like drawing a box or moving a cursor couldn’t be subjected to copyright protection. Nevertheless, the English judge decided to seek advice from the European Court.

Yves Bot believes that copyright protection can’t be applied to the functions performed by some computer program or any programming language. He explained that if it were accepted that a functionality of any software could be protected like that, it would have amounted to allowing for monopolizing the ideas, “to the detriment of technological progress and industrial development”. Instead, he thinks that the companies are able to reproduce a rival’s source code in order to ensure that its programs are compatible with competing goods, if they comply with determined conditions. 

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