SAS Institute Inc has told the European Court of Justice that the functions of a computer program should be afforded protection under copyright laws. The case is being heard in the European Court after the High Court of England and Wales referred it in order to overcome issues relating to the application and interpretation of the Software Directive and Information Society Directive.
SAS has been involved in ongoing litigation against World Programming Limited, a company which it claims has infringed its copyright by developing competing software from SAS’s detailed technical manuals.
SAS has submitted to the Court that the functions of a program should be subject to copyright protection in order to fully protect the creator. In response, World Programming has claimed that a legal position along these lines would affect competition between software providers and would be an obstacle to innovation in the sector. World Programming argues that it did not have access SAS’s source code or its structural designs and is not therefore liable for copyright infringement.
Copyright attaches itself to the expression of an idea, although the idea itself is not capable of protection. Accordingly, it is highly unlikely that the European Court will extend the scope of copyright protection in order to protect software functions, although it is less clear how the Court will rule in relation to the use of SAS’s manuals by World Programming to produce a competing product. The Court will need to consider whether the manuals contained enough technical detail to enable World Programming to understand the design details behind SAS’s software.