SAS Asks EU Court for Software Copyright Protection in Dispute

SAS Institute Inc. asked the European Union’s highest court to extend copyright protection to computer programs in a case that may limit the ability of companies to work with competing software.

World Programming Ltd. infringed SAS’s copyright by developing a system seeking to imitate SAS’s system by copying from the company’s manuals, SAS told the EU Court of Justice in Luxembourg today. The case seeks to clarify the scope of copyright protection where software copies the functions of a competing program without access to its source code.

WPL’s contention that what it copied is exempt from copyright protection would “deprive the copyright owner of a significant part of the value of the protection given to computer programs,” Henry Carr, the lawyer for SAS told a 13-judge panel. “There is no warrant for excluding that type of intellectual creativity.”

It’s the first time the EU’s top court has been asked to define the scope of copyright protection for computer software. Any ruling will affect the EU’s 27 nations. The High Court in London in 2010 referred the case to the EU tribunal for guidance on how to interpret the region’s software and copyright laws. The court said WPL’s system didn’t breach SAS’s copyright.

“The extension of copyright to cover such a situation would have greatly detrimental effects on competition, and would prevent the development of new and better ways of achieving those functions” of a competing program, Martin Howe, the lawyer for WPL, told the court today.

Structural Design

WPL “did not have access and did not copy either any of the text of the source code of the SAS program, or importantly, any of its structural design,” said Howe.

Closely held SAS argued WPL’s infringement consisted of copying elements of the SAS program into its own system indirectly based on the SAS manuals.

WPL’s program doesn’t interoperate with the SAS system, it is a “drop in” substitute and “even reproduces bugs and faults from the SAS System,” said Carr. “There are many programs which compete with the SAS System which do not copy the SAS manuals.”

“So detailed are the SAS manuals in describing the contents of the SAS System that they were effectively used by WPL as the preparatory design material which enabled WPL to create its competing software,” said Carr.

WPL argued there is “a clear dividing line” between the functions a computer program performs and which aren’t protected under copyright law, and the form of expression of a program, which is protected.

The case is: C-406/10, SAS Institute Inc. v. World Programming Ltd.

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