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A Free Reign for Functionality?

10 August 2010

The scope of copyright protection for computer programs has come under scrutiny once again. The view of the English Courts has been that copying the functionality of a program which does not involve the copying of source code or graphics does not amount to infringement of the copyright in the program. In SAS Institute v World Programming Limited, the Judge’s preliminary ruling followed the previous court decisions but he acknowledged that guidance on a number of aspects of this area of law was required from the ECJ.  It will be interesting to see if the ECJ upholds the approach taken by the English courts: if it does, then claims will have to be based on the copying of other elements of computer programs such as screen displays. Whilst this approach may be difficult for software owners to accept from an ownership perspective, it does provide the freedom to develop competing software so long as the source code and graphics are not copied.

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