It's Between Copyright And Fair Use In Oracle vs Google API Case
11 Dec 2013
I'm just getting time to read through the news coming out of the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, and the next phase of the Oracle v. Google case, which kicked off December 4th in California courts.
A panel of three judges presided over the Oracle v. Google Android/Java copyright appeal hearing, and after reading several accounts of the hearing, all three judges seem to all agree that the Java API should protected under copyright, but whether Google's use of portions of the Java API is fair use, is still unclear--potentially overturning Judge William Alsup earlier ruling.
I strongly feel that APIs are the "fair use tip" of software that could potentially be covered by copyright and patents. As demonstrated by my support of the Electronic Frontier Foundation amicus brief, I think API definitions remaining fair use is critical to interoperability and and not just a healthy API economy, but the the larger economy.
The hearing last week is just the beginning, the legal battle is likely to go on for a while, potentially making its way to the Supreme Court and / or possibly heading back to a lower court. Even if the earlier Oracle vs. Google ruling, that APIs aren't copyrightable is upheld, I anticipate we will see many, many legal battles on this front in coming years.
As we increase our vocabulary for describing and designing API interfaces, with approaches such as Swagger, RAML and API Blueprint, attempts to protect these definitions by copyright will increase. While I will continue to support efforts to defend APIs in their entirety as being protected under fair use and free from copyright, I will be focusing my efforts on encouraging healthy API design, sharing and collaboration through placement of API definitions into the API Commons.
While Oracle vs. Google remains a critical case that will have a major impact on the world of APIs, whichever way the case goes, it won't change the importance of publishing API definitions to the commons, setting the precedent for fair use, reinforcing the fact that this open use of API designs is critical to getting us from 10K APIs to millions of APIs, ensuring the interoperability we will need for our increasingly Internet enabled world.