We use cookies to provide you with a better experience. If you continue to use this site, we'll assume you're happy with this. Alternatively, click here to find out how to manage these cookies

hide cookie message
78,821 News Articles

EU: Programming Languages Can't Be Copyrighted

Europe's top court has ruled that the functionality of a computer program and the programming language it is written in cannot be protected by copyright.

The European Court of Justice made the decision in relation to a case that SAS Institute, a maker of statistical programs, brought against World Programming Ltd. (WPL), which develops and sells an interpreter for the SAS language.

Although WPL used and studied SAS's programs to understand their functionality, the court said, there was "nothing to suggest that WPL had access to or copied [SAS] source code." The court ruled that "the purchaser of a license for a program is entitled, as a rule, to observe, study or test its functioning so as to determine the ideas and principles which underlie that program."

If a function of a computer program could be specifically protected, that would amount to making it possible to monopolize ideas -- to the detriment of technological progress, the court said. This echoed the opinion given in November by Yves Bot, the court's advocate general.

The ruling effectively leaves the door open for companies to reverse-engineer the software of others -- in many cases without fear of infringing on copyrights.

This version of this story was originally published in Computerworld's print edition. It was adapted from an article that appeared earlier on Computerworld.com.

Read more about applications in Computerworld's Applications Topic Center.


IDG UK Sites

Chromecast deals aplenty as gadget turns one: Discounts and free music streaming

IDG UK Sites

Apple updates MacBook Pro line-up: Price cuts & spec boosts for 6 MacBook Pro models

IDG UK Sites

Introducing generation tech

IDG UK Sites

5 ways drones are being used for good