The extent of copyright protection for computer software

In May 2012, the European Court of Justice issued its ruling on the extent of copyright protection for computer software, finding that the copyright available to computer programs under the Software Directive (2009/24/EC) does not protect the functionality of a computer program, its programming language, or its data file format.

Copyright is the principal intellectual property right in the protection of software. A ‘computer program’ is a literary work under the Copyright, Design and Patents Act 1988, as is preparatory design material for a computer program. However, it is an established principle of law that copyright protects the expression of an idea and not the ideas themselves. In Navitaire Inc v Easyjet Airline Company and Nova Productions Limited v Mazooma Games Limited,  the High Court and Court of Appeal (CoA) respectively held that copyright in computer programs does not extend to the functionality, interfaces or programming language of a computer program. Therefore, developing a computer program that has the same or similar functionality and interfaces of another computer program would not amount to copyright infringement, but copying the underlying software code would…

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