APIs Can Not Be Copyrighted EFF Tells US Supreme Court

Things are not looking good in the Oracle v Google case. So, the EFF has asked the Supreme court to reverse the API decision.

Can you copyright an API? An appeals court certainly thinks so after their ruling siding with Oracle. An API (Application Programming Interface) is a code structure that allows computers to communicate with each other. An example of this is Twitter offering code so that website administrators can place them on their page. This drives traffic to Twitter and, in turn, helps others on the platform find their site. That is one example of what an API is.

So, when developers re-implement an API, very few would consider the act copyright infringement. Oracle, however, said it was and is suing Google. With the appeals court ruling that Oracle can claim copyright on the API, that has left Google asking the Supreme court to weigh in and overturn the lower courts ruling. Earlier this month, we reported on Google arguing that the case needs to be overturned or risk fundamentally reshaping what was ultimately a working system that permits many forms of innovation.

Now, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is also doing their part to fight against the ruling. The digital rights organization submitted a brief saying that the elimination of these copyright exceptions would set a very dangerous precedent. From the EFF:

In a brief filed today, EFF argues that the Federal Circuit, in ruling APIs were copyrightable, ignored clear and specific language in the copyright statute that excludes copyright protection for procedures, processes, and methods of operation.

“Instead of following the law, the Federal Circuit decided to rewrite it to eliminate almost all the exclusions from copyright protection that Congress put in the statute,” said EFF Legal Director Corynne McSherry. “APIs are not copyrightable. The Federal Circuit’s ruling has created a dangerous precedent that will encourage more lawsuits and make innovative software development prohibitively expensive. Fortunately, the Supreme Court can and should fix this mess.”

“Treating the Java APIs as copyrightable gives Oracle, which stands to make billions from that decision, outsized control and monopoly power over the development of Java-compatible programs. Copyright law aims to stimulate creativity for the public good, not lock developers into a licensing scheme for the functional aspects of software,” said EFF Special Counsel Michael Barclay. “We’re strongly urging the Supreme Court to correctly apply copyright law in this case, and put right what the Federal Circuit got wrong.”

The US Supreme Court has not yet decided if it intends on hearing this case.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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