EU Court Of Justice Says Software Functionality Is Not Subject To Copyright
from the good-ruling dept
In a relatively short ruling, the court points out that, while software itself may be covered by copyright, "the ideas and principles which underlie any element of a computer program, including those which underlie its interfaces, are not protected by copyright." Basically, the EUCJ properly recognized the difference between protecting the idea (not copyrightable) and the expression (copyrightable). The court points out that actual code can still be covered, but the features generated out of that code is a different story:
As the Advocate General states in point 57 of his Opinion, to accept that the functionality of a computer program can be protected by copyright would amount to making it possible to monopolise ideas, to the detriment of technological progress and industrial development.Also important in the discussion is whether or not the software maker could use a license agreement to effectively prohibit this. This is a question that courts have been dealing with for a while: can you effectively remove exceptions to copyright -- or can you effectively expand the power of copyright -- via an overly inclusive license agreement. Here, thankfully, the court rejects that idea:
Consequently, the owner of the copyright in a computer program may not prevent, by relying on the licensing agreement, the person who has obtained that licence from determining the ideas and principles which underlie all the elements of that program in the case where that person carries out acts which that licence permits him to perform and the acts of loading and running necessary for the use of the computer program, and on condition that that person does not infringe the exclusive rights of the owner in that program.It's always nice to see courts getting copyright rulings right (or, at least, mostly right). It's been much rarer in the US, but it seems like the EUCJ has really been thinking a lot more carefully about copyright law lately.
It must therefore be held that the copyright in a computer program cannot be infringed where, as in the present case, the lawful acquirer of the licence did not have access to the source code of the computer program to which that licence relates, but merely studied, observed and tested that program in order to reproduce its functionality in a second program.