The European Court of Justice has issued an expected but reassuring ruling in a key software case. The case involved SAS, which sought to stop WPL using the same software program language developed by SAS and functionality and file formats. This was despite WPL not having had access to SAS’s source code. The ECJ has ruled:
- The functionality of a software program, the program language and the format of data files are not protected by copyright. To have ruled otherwise would give one commercial entity unfair advantage and the ability to stifle competition. This was not the intention of European Union software rules.
- In addition, regardless of anything else in a software licence agreement or any attempt by a software licensor to stop this, a lawful user of a software program can observe, study or test the program functions to determine underlying ideas and principles within the program.
- Software manuals are potentially protected by copyright if they represent the intellectual creation of the author. This has to go beyond mere keywords, syntax and commands. What would be protectable is the sequence and combination of usage. It is for the national courts to decide whether copyright exists in a relevant manual on a case-by-case basis.