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  • 2.2 Copyright Protection of Program Architecture
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Architecture diagram of the computer game Cold Blood
Graphic: Eetu Kupiainen, Jussi Litja, and Taro Morimoto

From the programmer's point of view, a computer program is much more than a set of commands. Usually it is more about the architectonic design of interfaces between code structures and different modules than writing mechanic commands. Consequently, an often visited question in legal literature is whether source code architecture (modular structure and interdependencies) can be protected by copyright.

In principal, source code architecture can be protected by copyright as a computer program's preparatory material. According to the directive on the legal protection of computer programs, the preparatory materials of a computer program are also protected by copyright. Preparatory material refers, among other things, to flow charts that outline the program's logical structure. There is little experience in implementing the directive, and it is not completely consistent [1].  In addition, the conditions for the application of the directive vary from one country to another. For example, in the United Kingdom program architecture is protected by copyright – but not as a computer program. On the other hand, in the United States program architecture is not usually protected by copyright [2]. In practice it often depends on, for example, whether a specific flow chart meets the general conditions for copyright protection, i.e. whether it exceeds the required level of originality.

Notes and References

[1] David I. Brainbridge (2009): Intellectual Property. 7 edition, London.

[2] David I. Brainbridge (2009): Intellectual Property. 7 edition, London.