Home > Reading Room > Copyright protection in User faces

Copyright protection in User faces

Written by Michael Coyle on 25 April 2014

« Return to Reading Room

There have been many cases in which proprietors of websites have taken legal action for copyright infringement against the owners and website developers where both interfaces have been identical. 

Although the graphic user interface of a webpage may be protected by the law of passing off, the only protection under copyright law is where the code has been wholly or substantially copied, and not the layout of the graphic user interface.

In case of BezpecnostniSsoftwarova Asociace - Svaz Softwarove Ochrany v Ministerstvo Kultury, Case C-393/09 the Court held that both the source and object code of a website were forms of expression and as literary works were entitled to be protected by copyright under Council Directive 2001/29.  Therefore, for the graphic user interface can only be protected where the source code or object code of a computer program is wholly or substantially copied.  The graphic user interface is not in itself protected under either Council Directive 2001/29 or the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988.

Currently, in cases where the graphic user interface of a website is identical to another but has been written independently or in a different language the only remedy is passing off.

In the case of Navitaire Inc v EasyJet Airline Co Ltd (No.3) [2004] EWHC 1725 (Ch) the Court rejected the claim that copyright subsisted in the appearance and functionality of a software program. Where computer programs are completely different but produce identical results (non textual copying), the ‘business logic’ of those results (i.e. the graphic user interface) cannot be protected. 

In SAS Institute Inc v World Programming Ltd [2010] EWHC 1829 (Ch) Arnold J. agreed with the decision in Navitaire Inc v EasyJet Airline Co Ltd that copyright in computer programs did not protect programming languages, interfaces and functionality of computer programs.

Therefore, the code of a website is protected by copyright but the graphic user interface of the website (where the code is independent and original

If you'd like to know more about this article please send an email to Michael Coyle quoting the article title and any questions you might have, alternatively call the office number on 02380 235 979 or send an enquiry through our contact form.

Want to speak
to someone?

Complete the form below and we’ll call you back free of charge.

Visual Captcha