Wednesday, 26 October 2016

From Elvish and Klingon to C++: languages should or should not be subject to copyright protection Part 3?

So it finally time to make the final part...

To further support the ruling, the CJEU repeated the idea of Advocate General Bot in that in its view "...allowing that the functionality of a computer program be protected by copyright would amount to making it possible to monopolise ideas, to the detriment of technological process and industrial development". Thus, the ruling is much in favor of narrow interpretation of copyright, which limits free competition less.

The decision of the CJEU that the functionality of a computer program cannot be protected by copyright is not very surprising, since it repeats the approach previously adopted by the English courts, in cases such as Navitaire Inc v EasyJet Airline Co Ltd [2004] and by the Advocate General. On another note, the case was very complex in many ways, and therefore it seems natural, though unfortunate, that the judges and parties were to some extent unable to understand each other. Disappointment in this was also commented by Lord Justice Lewison, the judge in the Court of Appeal, where he referred to the ruling of the CJEU. According to Lewiston, the parties themselves had interpreted the ruling in different ways and, in addition, he criticized the European Court for not answering all the questions presented to it. Therefore, my guess is that this story and discussion will continue in future cases.

So to summarise, according to  the Council Directive 91/250/EEC ("the Software Directive") contains the following recitals: "Whereas, for the avoidance of doubt, it has to be made clear that only the expression of a computer program is protected and that ideas and principles which underlie any element of a program, including those which underlie its interfaces, are not protected by copyright under this Directive; Whereas, in accordance with this principle of copyright, to the extent that logic, algorithms and programming languages comprise ideas and principles, those ideas and principles are not protected under this Directive."

Does this mean that programming languge cannot enjoy copyright protection which was the original system? Is it only relevant in case of infringement of computer program language by another computer program language? Can one, say, infringe a copyright in J.R.R Tolkien’s Elf language by writing a book with that language? Well in light of above it seems that computer programming languages can enjoy copyright protection, but the scope of such protection is just often limited by functional elements. So while in many cases it seems difficult to establish infringement of a computer program if the other party has utilised functional elements driven from the underlying programming language, (or the other way around, infringement of copyright in language by a computer program) infringement of a copyright in "language infringes language" -type of claims seems more convincing and easier to enforce. What is the practical economical rationale behind such infringing action remains for all of us to consider. Similarly all of us who have spend some part of their live in Oxford can breathe a sigh of relieve as Tolkien's work in the development of Elf language would be protected within this similar scope with this "no reaping without sowing" kind of justification elaborated above.

Let me know your thoughts on this and truly fascinating topic!

Regards,

Jan