The ECJ’s strict interpretation of software copyright protection

15 May 2012

The high court disallowed the protected nature of programming language, file format, or the functionality of the program.

In the ruling handed down on May 2, 2012, the ECJ issued a preliminary ruling on the question debated in matter C-406/10, which raised doubts as regards the interpretation of EEC Directive 91/250 on legal protections for computer programs.

The ruling questions whether Directive 91/250 should be interpreted in the sense that both the functionality of a computer program as well as the data file format used in a program constitute a form of expression of said program and, as such, are eligible for copyright protection for the computer programs referred to in the Directive.

The ECJ established that allowing copyright to protect the functionality of a computer programming program would mean opening the door to a monopolization of ideas to the detriment of technical progress and industrial development. As regards the programming language or the format of the data files used in a computer program to run some of its functions, the court held that they do not constitute a form of expression of this program and, therefore, are not entitled to copyright protection for computer programs

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