2. In particular, the High Court […] asks, in substance, whether the functionalities of a computer program and the programming language are protected by copyright under Article 1(2) of Directive 91/250. That provision stipulates that such protection is to apply to the expression in any form of a computer program and points out that ideas and principles which underlie any element of a computer program are not protected under that directive.
3. The Court is also asked to give a ruling on whether Articles1(2) and 6 of Directive 91/250 are to be interpreted as meaning that it is not regarded as an act subject to authorisation for a licensee to reproduce a code or to translate the form of the code of a data file format so as to be able to write, in his own computer program, a source code which reads and writes that file format.
4. Moreover, the referring court asks the Court to define the scope of the exception to the author’s exclusive copyright in a computer program, provided for in Article 5(3) of Directive 91/250, which states that a person having a right to use a copy of a computer program is to be entitled, without the authorisation of the rightholder, to observe, study or test the functioning of the program in order to determine the ideas and principles which underlie any element of the program if he does so while performing any of the acts of loading, displaying, running, transmitting or storing the program which he is entitled to do.
5. Finally, the Court is invited to consider the scope of the protection provided for in Article 2(a) of Directive 2001/29, which grants authors the exclusive right to authorise or prohibit direct or indirect, temporary or permanent, reproduction by any means and in any form, in whole or in part, of their works. More specifically, the question is whether the reproduction, in a computer program or a user manual, of certain elements described in the user manual for another computer program constitutes, under that provision, an infringement of the copyright in the latter manual.
In his Opinion delivered today, Advocate General Bot recalls, as a preliminary point, that the protection conferred by Directive 91/250/EEC applies to the expression in any form of a computer program and not to the ideas and principles which underlie any element of a computer program. Thus, the Advocate General takes the view that the protection of a computer program covers the literal elements of that program, that is to say, the source code and the object code, and also any other element expressing the creativity of its author. [A footnote indicates that this includes preparatory design documents such as flowcharts.]
In the first place, with regard to the functionality of a computer program, the Advocate General defines it as the set of possibilities offered by a computer system – in other words, the service which the user expects from it.
Starting from that premiss [sic], the Advocate General considers that the functionalities of a computer program are not eligible, as such, for copyright protection. The functionalities of a computer program are in fact dictated by a specific and limited purpose. In this, they are similar to ideas. That is why there may be a number of computer programs offering the same functionalities. Thus, if it were accepted that a functionality of a computer program can be protected as such, that would amount to making it possible to monopolise ideas, to the detriment of technological progress and industrial development.
By contrast, the means for achieving the concrete expression of the functionalities of a program may be protected by copyright. Creativity, skill and inventiveness are expressed in the way in which the program is drawn up, in its writing. Thus, the way in which formulae and algorithms are arranged [but not the formulae and algorithms themselves, the IPKat notes, which the A-G likened to the words used by an author] – like the style in which the computer program is written – will be likely to reflect the author’s own intellectual creation and therefore be eligible for protection
The Advocate General therefore takes the view that, as is the case with other works that may be protected by copyright, the fact of reproducing a substantial part of the expression of the functionalities of a computer program may constitute an infringement of copyright. In the present case, he concludes that the national court will have to consider whether, in reproducing the functionalities of the SAS System in its computer program, WPL reproduced a substantial part of the elements of the SAS System which are the expression of SAS Institute’s own intellectual creation.