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Judge Rules API's Can Not Be Copyrighted 365

Posted by samzenpus
from the listen-to-the-law dept.
Asmodae writes "Judge Alsup in the Oracle vs Google case has finally issued his ruling on the issue of whether or not APIs can be copyrighted. That ruling is resounding no. In some fairly clear language the judge says: 'So long as the specific code used to implement a method is different, anyone is free under the Copyright Act to write his or her own code to carry out exactly the same function or specification of any methods used in the Java API.'"
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Judge Rules API's Can Not Be Copyrighted

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 31, 2012 @06:19PM (#40174149)

    PJ from Groklaw:

    Oracle has nothing to show for all of its efforts> For those who have depended on the self-described patent expert for your understanding of this case . . . well, maybe now you will know better than to trust a paid spokesman.

  • The Judge gets it (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Chris Burke (6130) on Thursday May 31, 2012 @06:34PM (#40174329) Homepage

    "In order to declare a particular functionality, the language demands that the method declaration take a particular form," notes Alsup (emphasis in original).

    Indeed, this is just so. And you can't copyright "functionality"; that's akin to copyrighting a concept, which is not what copyright is about. Copyright is about protecting implementations of concepts, and those are still protected. But a programming language requires a rigid codification of the concept itself.

    Oracle's response made me chuckle a little...

    "The court's reliance on "interoperability" ignores the undisputed fact that Google deliberately eliminated interoperability between Android and all other Java platforms," the company said in a statement issued this afternoon. "Google's implementation intentionally fragmented Java and broke the "write once, run anywhere" promise."

    That's really immaterial to the reasoning for why an APIs aren't protected under the Copyright Act in the first place. It would be relevant if "interoperability" were a defense against copyright infringement, but it's not, since the item in question wasn't protected in the first place.

    Just because my implementation of fopen() breaks programs that depended on your implementation of fopen() that doesn't suddenly mean that your declaration of a function called fopen() is protected and my identical declaration is infringing. This would imply that copyright infringement claims based on APIs would suddenly be dependent on some kind of compatibility test.

    And on that note, it was that last line that made me chuckle. Brings to mind something about ships and sailing, or barn doors and horses.

  • by sconeu (64226) on Thursday May 31, 2012 @06:35PM (#40174335) Homepage Journal

    He hasn't yet, and those of us who have been following the case are eagerly awaiting his spin.

  • Re:Good to Know (Score:5, Interesting)

    by twistedcubic (577194) on Thursday May 31, 2012 @06:37PM (#40174361)
    Even if they appeal, the appellate judges will get a good education from reading the current decision, so they might do the right thing. I have to say, I doubt this would have happened if Google did not exist.
  • Re:Good to Know (Score:5, Interesting)

    by BitterOak (537666) on Thursday May 31, 2012 @07:56PM (#40175123)

    Wine's safe. And everything else associated with it.

    Keep in mind two things: First, this is a district court judge. Surely he won't have the final say on an issue of this import. It will most likely be decided at the Court of Appeals or Supreme Court level.

    The other interesting thing is how this could affect the GPL. As I understand it, the difference between the GPL and say, the LGPL, is that if you write code that uses GPL libraries, your source code must also be GPL'd, even if you don't distribute those libraries with your code. (i.e. your installation instructions direct users to download and install the libraries themselves.) The way it works is, your code is written to the API specified by those libraries and you are therefore bound by the license terms of those libraries. If API's are not covered by copyright, then you wouldn't be bound by those license terms, and so effectively there's no difference between the GPL and the LGPL.

  • Re:Good to Know (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ClickOnThis (137803) on Thursday May 31, 2012 @09:03PM (#40175649) Journal

    Note that when pressed on the issue, the FSF will waffle on the "dynamic linking" point. I think they understand it would only hold up in court under some specific circumstances. So few libs are GPL that it is hardly an issue.

    I have heard disagreeing positions from GPL advocates on that very point of dynamic linking to libraries which the user installs separately. And I don't think there are so few libraries that are GPL'd. It is a very significant point.

    I was trying to write a counter-argument to your other post in this thread, and then stopped. You do raise a fascinating point.

    Stallman's own words [wikipedia.org] seem to indicate that one would put a library under GPL (instead of LGPL) so that it cannot be used by proprietary software, even through dynamic linking. However, the only "use" of the GPL library by the proprietary software in such a case would be the API interface. But without copyright protection of the API, maybe it is as you say: a GPL library simply becomes a LGPL library.

    Looking at this from another direction, what happens if someone writes a proprietary library that duplicates the function of a GPL library? Does that infringe? I don't think so, because it doesn't use the GPL library, it replaces it. Now, what if someone (maybe even the same person or company) writes a proprietary program that uses this proprietary replacement? Does either the program or the proprietary library infringe? Again, I don't think so. Now for the really interesting part: what if someone runs the proprietary program with the now plug-compatible GPL library? Is anyone infringing? If so, who?

  • Re:Good to Know (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gcnaddict (841664) on Thursday May 31, 2012 @09:17PM (#40175735)
    via c|net [cnet.com]:

    On many days, the San Francisco courtroom where he presided was more like a computer science classroom. Alsup acknowledged during the trial that he had learned about Java coding to better prepare for the case, and it showed. On a daily basis, he would deftly query the lawyers and expert witnesses on the structure, sequence, and organizations of APIs to assist the jury in understanding the key facets of the copyright phase of the trial.

    This is why I have respect for Judge Alsup. In order to apply the law in a complex engineering-related case, he worked to learn the subject matter in order to properly apply the law to the material. That's how I expect every Judge should apply the law rather than just sit and "trust the experts" per-se.

  • Re:Good to Know (Score:4, Interesting)

    by BitterOak (537666) on Thursday May 31, 2012 @09:46PM (#40175885)

    You're misunderstanding the licensing issue with GPLed libraries. The licensing issue is that by linking against the GPLed library, you are using the actual GPLed code as part of your product, not just the headers, thus making your code a derivative work of that GPLed code because it depends on that code for correct operation.

    You're missing my point. I'm talking about distributing code that links either dynamically to user-installed GPL libraries, or even source code which the user compiles (which you don't want to release under GPL, but rather, say, BSD or some other license.) So you won't be actually distributing the GPL libraries at all.

    If what you mean to say is that you've created a derivative work by writing code that links to these libraries, that is equivalent to saying that the APIs that the libraries implement is copyrightable. I.e. writing code that meets the API specifications for a specific set of libraries is creating a derivative work is equivalent to saying the APIs enjoy copyright protection. There's no difference. This is what the judge rejected.

  • Re:Good to Know (Score:4, Interesting)

    by reve_etrange (2377702) on Thursday May 31, 2012 @10:40PM (#40176171)

    They collect the most from patents which are granted, but later reexamined.

    Schedule of fees [uspto.gov]

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