EU Court: You Can’t Copyright a Programming Language

The European Court of Justice has handed down a ruling that could have widespread implications for the software industry. In a lawsuit brought by SAS Institute against World Programming Limited (WPL), the EU’s highest court ruled that copyright protection does not cover the functionality of a computer program and the programming language it is written. Although WPL studied SAS programs, the court ruled that it hadn’t “copied” their source code. It added, “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.”

Observers note that the ruling paves the way for software vendors to reverse engineer each others’ products. It’s also interesting in light of the current Oracle vs. Google lawsuit in the U.S., which also centers on the issue of whether a programming language can be copyrighted.

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