EU speaks common sense on software copyrights

An EU advisory body to the Europe’s highest court has pointed out that a US computer software outfit cannot claim copyright protection for the functions performed by its programs, which have been copied by a rival.

The SAS Institute case is seen as crucial for the European computer industry and will decide how companies create products that can work with rival services without breaching copyright rules.

Much will depend on how far the US idea in which you can patent something blindingly obvious and then sue people who actually invent stuff has soaked into the European legal system.

So far it looks like the EU is erring on the side of common sense. The non-binding opinion by Yves Bot, an advocate-general at the Luxembourg-based EU Court of Justice , is in line with a verdict reached by the High Court of England and Wales in July last year. Judges will rule on the case next year.

SAS Institute sued World Programing n 2009, saying the Blighty software outfit had infringed its copyrights by copying its programs and manuals. This would have been tricky as WPL had designed its products without access to SAS’s source code. SAS argued it did not matter because the material looked similar and it got there first.

The England and Wales courts told SAS Institute to sling its hook. It ruled that the underlying functions performed by software programs such as drawing a box or moving a cursor were not subjected to copyright protection. However, the English judge also sought advice from the European Court.

Bot’s opinion was that opyright protection cannot extend to the functions performed by a computer program or the programing language.

According to Reuters, he said that if it were accepted that a functionality of a computer program can be protected as such, that “would amount to making it possible to monopolise ideas, to the detriment of technological progress and industrial development”.

Outfits could reproduce a rival’s source code to ensure that its programs were compatible with competing products, as long as they comply with certain conditions, he said.