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Suppose I see an innovative piece of (commercial) software that delivers considerable, non-trivial functionality.

Can I re-implement it? Suppose I study it carefully, work out what it does and how it does it, and then write my own software to do the same thing. I haven't (knowingly) copied any specific part of that system, but I have replicated the system as a whole ...its design. So have I infringed the copyright of the original system?

Consider the possibility of translating a Harry Potter novel into French. If I change the names, I could produce a text that didn't contain a single word of Rowling's original. But I believe that doing so would infring Rowling's copyright. What is the situation with software?

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    Your analogy is not quite right; a better analogy would be that you read Harry Potter, and then want to make your own novel (in French, say) about a boy who goes to a magical wizard school. You could certainly make your own version of such a story without infringing on copyrights. J K Rowling doesn't 'own' the idea of a magical school or magical spells. – Brandin Apr 8 at 7:52
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You can't compare a novel and a computer program that way. With a novel, the expression and the essence of the work are the same. With a computer program, while the expression is hard work to create, and often is very original, the essence of the work is what it does.

So I can create a totally independent computer program doing the exact same thing, without any copying whatsoever. With your novel, the essence of the work is copied. Unless you change Harry Potter to a pot smoking sanitary engineer, change his wand to a guitar, move him to a different world, where is not surrounded by fellow wizards but by intelligent, speaking animals, and write the whole thing a few years before Mrs. Rowling did.

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