European Commission fined €12 million over Unix

The European Commission has been fined just over €12 million ($16 million) for software copyright infringement.

The fine of €12,001,000 was given after the General Court of the European Union ruled that the Commission infringed the copyright of software it employed by French firm Systran.

The dispute was over the EC-Systran Unix software, which Systran adapted from its machine translation software for the EC between 1997 and 2002. In 2003 the EC put out a call for tenders to maintain and linguistically enhance the system, which Systran informed the EC would infringe its copyright.

The EC failed to recognise these rights, saying that Systran did not provide probative documents to properly establish its claim.

Nearly a decade later, with four years spent in heated court battles, the General Court found the EC guilty of copyright infringement, a decision which Systran has called “historic”. Systran also said that this is the first time a European institution “has been condemned in such a manner and to such a degree.”

The damages to be paid to Systran include €7 million in fees Systran would have claimed between 2004 and 2010 if the EC had properly employed Systran in tendering for alterations to the EC-Systran Unix system. It also includes €5 million in compensation for the potential effect of the EC’s behaviour on Systran’s finances over the last six years. A final €1,000 is given as non-material compensation.

The Court warned the EC to respect Systran’s copyright. If not, Systran will be entitled to launch a new infringement case to seek further damages.

As a final measure the General Court ordered the publication of a press release detailing the situation as a form of non-pecuniary compensation for the reputational damage that Systran suffered due to the EC’s “unlawful conduct”.