The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) recently filed a a brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, urging the court to block copyright claims in the Oracle v. Google legal battle. The EFF approached me several months ago to provide feedback for the brief. I sent over my research and published some of my thoughts to Help EFF Make Case For No Copryight on APIs and why API Copyright Would Restrict API Interoperability and also lent my support as one of the Signatories to the Computer Scientists’ Amicus Brief.
Here is a summarized version of the arguement:
As computer scientists, amici have relied on the open nature of APIs and the programs built on them to create and operate new software. Amici depend on APIs remaining open to sustain wide spreads compatibility standards used by startups and incumbents alike. Reversing the District Court would dangerously undermine the settled expectations of computer scientists who rely on the open nature of APis.
- Uncopyrightable interfaces were essential to the development of modern computers and the Internet
- The BIOS of the Original IBM-Compatible PC
- Major modern operating system reimplement the ground break UNIX API
- The C programming language became universal because of its uncopyrightable interface
- Computers rely on the uncopyrightable nature of APIs and network protocols to communicate over the Internet
- The uncopyrightable nature of APIs for the industry standards for cloud computing
- Uncopyrightable interfaces spur the creation of software that otherwise would not be written
- Uncopyrightable interfaces allow software that makes different systems compatible
- Uncopyrightable interfaces help programmers develop completely new capabilities for software
- Copyright in interfaces would creat an "orphan software" problem
- Uncopyrightable interfaces protect both developers and users
- The orphan software problem disproportionately affects the public sector
The freedom to reimplement and extend existing aPIs has undoubtedly led to robust software and hardware industries, but also to an explosion of technological advances that do more than merely increase companies' bottom line. They open the world for the sharing of information, increased communication, and technological advances that could never have been contemplated.
You can read the full brief that was filed over at EFF. Keeping APIs open, and free from copyright is something I am passionate about and feel very strongly that it is critical to a healthy, vibrant online economy.
I'm confident that the Judge will throw out Oracle's case, but I do no think this is the last time we'll see a company step up and try to apply copyright to APIs.
I'm very thankful for the EFF and the other computer scientists who researched and supported the brief.