A European Union court ruled yesterday that programming languages can't be copyrighted. The case was tried in the the Court of Justice of the European Union, the highest European Union court, as SAS Institute, Inc v. World Programming Ltd.
According to the court's official judgment release, the court ruled in favor of World Programming and made the following important statement:
in accordance with [the principle that only the expression of a computer program is protected by copyright], to the extent that logic, algorithms and programming languages comprise ideas and principles, those ideas and principles are not protected under this Directive
Additionally, the court issued a press release that stated its findings in more basic terms. In regards to programming languages, the following excerpt makes a clear statement on whether or not programming languages can by copyrighted:
In this respect, the Court takes the view that, in the present case, the keywords, syntax, commands and combinations of commands, options, defaults and iterations consist of words, figures or mathematical concepts, considered in isolation, are not, as such, an intellectual creation of the author of that program. It is only through the choice, sequence and combination of those words, figures or mathematical concepts that the author expresses his creativity in an original manner.
Essentially, the court is ruling that programming languages can't be copyrighted as they are not expressing creativity in an "original manner," similar to how a mathematical concept on its own cannot be copyrighted. Original works created through the use of that programming language, however, are protected by copyright.
The ruling is important, as ZDNet points out, in that it is similar to the current Google v. Oracle case in the United States, where Oracle is arguing Google infringed on its copyrights by using "a specific 37 Java APIs on Android without a license." While the case outlined above will have no impact on Google v. Oracle (the above case was tried in Europe, while Google v. Oracle is being tried in the United States), it could provide insight in how court systems view programming languages.