Want to read Slashdot from your mobile device? Point it at m.slashdot.org and keep reading!


Forgot your password?
Google Oracle The Courts Your Rights Online

Judge Rules API's Can Not Be Copyrighted 365

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.'"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Judge Rules API's Can Not Be Copyrighted

Comments Filter:
  • by gus goose ( 306978 ) on Thursday May 31, 2012 @07:22PM (#40174183) Journal

    Having read the entire order (and having followed this case from near the beginning), all I can say is that I *wish* that all orders were so well prepared and presented. It appears to close all avenues for appeals, and I think the best 'showing' of any parties to this case has been Judge Alsup. He kept control of a tough case, and in my opinion, all his rulings have been well thought out, and his 'go-the-extra-mile' attitude has made this process a clear win for all (except Oracle).


  • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) * on Thursday May 31, 2012 @07:24PM (#40174207)
    That's ok, they have plenty of money to appeal where it will probably get overturned by some moron.
  • Re:Good to Know (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Thursday May 31, 2012 @07:25PM (#40174215) Journal

    Just about everything is safe. Ruling APIs copyrightable would have been a catastrophe of earth-shattering proportions. It is very much a good day for software. And, of course, Oracle has been handed their balls on a platter, though I'm assuming they will appeal this.

  • by geekoid ( 135745 ) <dadinportland&yahoo,com> on Thursday May 31, 2012 @07:25PM (#40174223) Homepage Journal

    Long term speaking, its a win for Oracle. It's really only a matter of time before it would have bit them in the butt. There developers use APIs as well.

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

    by icebike ( 68054 ) * on Thursday May 31, 2012 @07:32PM (#40174307)


    How could you possibly call an API if the argument structure was copyrightable? Buy a license for every single API set that was delivered with your machine, associated with every software product, or hosted somewhere on the web?

    In a world of stupid IP laws, at least this judge gets it. (Which surprises the hell out of me).

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

    by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Thursday May 31, 2012 @07:36PM (#40174349) Journal

    It would have been a disaster. Just about every operating system vendor, programming toolkit, developer of document formats and protocols would have to amend licenses to grant developers the rights to access the outward facing layers. Big guys like Microsoft could just crush projects like Wine. It would have been absolute chaos and would have created years of uncertainty, not to mention the fact that as the EU has already ruled APIs cannot be copyrighted, it would have created a monstrous rift in IP rules between Europe and the United States.

  • Re:Decimated (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mirix ( 1649853 ) on Thursday May 31, 2012 @07:38PM (#40174369)

    The original 'reduce by one tenth' decimate is archaic. Modern usage means kill/weaken a significant portion of the group/thing being decimated.

    And you know this, too.

  • Re:Good to Know (Score:2, Insightful)

    by s.petry ( 762400 ) on Thursday May 31, 2012 @07:39PM (#40174373)

    Someone did not pay him enough!

    Hence, we will see an appeal to a Judge that gets paid the right amount of money by the right people.

    The more likely answer is: This judge is not corrupted like so many others. It's a refreshing sight!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 31, 2012 @07:41PM (#40174399)

    Meet Alice. Alice thinks she has the right to shoot anyone she wants in the head. In particular, Alice wants to shoot Bob. Bob objects, and Alice and Bob take their dispute to court. After a long and vexatious trial, Alice loses.

    Charlie, Alice's estranged ex-boyfriend, is standing outside the courtroom, menacingly brandishing a gun. "Alice", Charlie says. "You lucked out!" "What do you mean," Alice exclaims. "I just lost my case!" "All is lost, for now I can't shoot Bob in the head, or anyone else I don't like."

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

    by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Thursday May 31, 2012 @07:41PM (#40174401) Journal

    Hell, it would have meant Open/LibreOffice and just about anyone with software or libraries that can read or write the old Word 97-2003 formats would be insanely vulnerable. The distance between an API, a document format or a protocol is no distance at all, and anyone who didn't have a license to write Word-compatible files could be nailed to the wall.

  • by tobiasly ( 524456 ) on Thursday May 31, 2012 @07:44PM (#40174427) Homepage

    Having read the entire order (and having followed this case from near the beginning), all I can say is that I *wish* that all orders were so well prepared and presented. It appears to close all avenues for appeals, and I think the best 'showing' of any parties to this case has been Judge Alsup.

    This this this. Most of those old fart judges would have thrown their hands up in exasperation at trying to understand all this computery gobbledygook, not written an order that explains the difference between public and private or instance vs. static methods. Couldn't have gotten a better judge for this case.

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

    by Volante3192 ( 953645 ) on Thursday May 31, 2012 @07:49PM (#40174485)

    That this judge knew what the two sides were talking about is one big factor.

    Basically, average judge (well, average person in general) would look at rangeCheck() and go "VOODOO!!!"
    He looks at it and goes, "Day 1 of a coding class. Where's the originality?"

  • Re:Decimated (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mark-t ( 151149 ) <markt@nerdfl[ ]com ['at.' in gap]> on Thursday May 31, 2012 @07:51PM (#40174509) Journal

    Thank you for your pedantry. While decimate did originally refer to the removal of every tenth part of something, today the meaning is extended to include the destruction of any large proportion of a group, and this definition has been accepted for quite a few decades... going back to at least WWII.

    Look the word up in practically any modern dictionary ... while your 1/10th definition will probably be there, it will probably have an (archaic) or (obsolete) qualifier on it. At the very least, the newer definition will also be listed. More likely ahead of the one you've given, illustrating the most common usage of the word.

    Yes... languages evolve. Words change meaning. Live with it.

  • Re:Seriously? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 31, 2012 @07:55PM (#40174549)

    Why even bother to have two returns?

    int max(int a, int b) {
            return (a > b ? a : b);

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

    by amicusNYCL ( 1538833 ) on Thursday May 31, 2012 @07:55PM (#40174551)

    In a world of stupid IP laws, at least this judge gets it. (Which surprises the hell out of me).

    That's what happens when you have a judge who programs as a hobby. It would be great if all lawsuits that affect an entire industry like this had to be decided by a judge familiar with the industry. Not going to happen of course, but it would be awesome if judges deciding software patent cases had to have some sort of programming background.

  • by Genda ( 560240 ) <mariet@@@got...net> on Thursday May 31, 2012 @08:01PM (#40174603) Journal

    I'm sorry, but what planet have you been living on for the last 20 years. Our supreme court (with special kudos for justices Kennedy and Scalia), just defined corporations as people with the first amendment rights to buy elections. Judges across the land have been giving large corporations anything they damn well want without the slightest concern to the damage done to society, and I for one am thrilled that this judge actually had;

    1. A positive measurable IQ.
    2. A sense of the urgency of this decision.
    3. A grasp of the implications facing society and business if the wrong decision were made
    4. And a basic idea just how bogus Oracle's claims were.

    It almost gives me faith in the system when someone does something so right, and for the right reasons. Now someone needs to buy Oracle a speedo with an ice bag in the front... take down some of that pain and swelling...

  • by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Thursday May 31, 2012 @08:03PM (#40174613) Journal

    You must have spitting fire when GCJ created the ability to compile Java to native machine code.

    Java is a language, just like C, C#, PHP, Cobol, and all the rest. If someone wants to write something that compiles to native machine code, to some other language or to some other VM, then so what? This all happened because Sun, and later Oracle, thought they had a level of control it now is shown they do not. This whole "purity of Java" line is bunk. It's like saying "the only true C is C compiled to a PDP-7".

    Besides, your Java code is, for the most part, just a cross-compile away from Dalvik. The situation is hardly that dire.

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

    by Dragon Bait ( 997809 ) on Thursday May 31, 2012 @08:07PM (#40174653)

    The judge has clearly anticipated the appeal, even devoting an entire section to explaining how utterly trivial the 9 lines of actually copied code are...

    It is amusing. The judge probably spent several orders of magnitude longer explaining why the lines were trivial than the time it would take to the write the function in the first place.

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

    by slimjim8094 ( 941042 ) <slashdot3NO@SPAMjustconnected.net> on Thursday May 31, 2012 @08:15PM (#40174737)

    It would be great if all lawsuits that affect an entire industry like this had to be decided by a judge familiar with the industry.

    Be careful what you wish for. If you have any experience in, say, hydraulic fracking for natural gas expansion, it's because you worked for a company that did it. Assuming you left on somewhat-amiable terms, you'll harbor generally-kind feelings to the company in particular and the industry in general, if only to justify to yourself why you did it. In this case, it turned out great - but mostly because you can program as a hobby, which isn't possible for banking, fracking, telco, etc...

    Imagine the worst of regulatory capture (when the only people with sufficient experience to regulate an industry are the ones being regulated), but with much broader consequences. Not pretty. There's a reason our judges are supposed to be experts in law, and the lawyers are supposed to bring in expert witnesses to explain the relevant details of the subject to him.

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

    by theshowmecanuck ( 703852 ) on Thursday May 31, 2012 @08:18PM (#40174775) Journal
    I agree, but what makes me ponder is that the European court said to allow copyright on an API would allow monopolizing ideas. Isn't that what allowing business rules patents does? Ie patent ideas? Hopefully, somehow, Alsup's logic pervades into the business rule / software patent realm and blots out this travesty of justice too.
  • by BillKaos ( 657870 ) on Thursday May 31, 2012 @08:34PM (#40174917) Homepage

    I'm sorry to say that, but Stallman was spot on with regarding his position about Java.

    I feel nervous when I develop using a non-free framework. I much favor using a fully open source stack, as a programmer it frees me about a lot of worries.

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

    by ATMAvatar ( 648864 ) on Thursday May 31, 2012 @08:44PM (#40175027) Journal

    His point is valid, though. The proper example to cite is government regulators. There's a revolving door between industry and the regulatory bodies who govern the industry, and as such, you get a lot of backroom deals and agents looking the other way.

    If the primary criteria for familiarity with a topic is former employment, expect most judges to become industry-captured much the same way.

    I'm not saying I *want* the judges to be ignorant of the topics they preside over, but having well-informed judges is a sticky problem.

  • by Frank T. Lofaro Jr. ( 142215 ) on Thursday May 31, 2012 @09:05PM (#40175203) Homepage

    The judge knows more about programming than Oracle does!

  • by DrJimbo ( 594231 ) on Thursday May 31, 2012 @09:19PM (#40175337)

    Perhaps Oracle didn't read the ruling carefully. Judge Alsup ruled:

    That interoperability is at the heart of the command structure is illustrated by Oracle's preoccupation with what it calls "fragmentation," meaning the problem of having imperfect interoperability among platforms. When this occurs, Java-based applications may not run on the incompatible platforms. For example, Java-based code using the replicated parts of the 37 API packages will run on Android but will not if a 38th package is needed. Such imperfect interoperability leads to a "fragmentation" -- a Balkanization -- of platforms, a circumstance which Sun and Oracle have tried to curb via their licensing programs. In this litigation, Oracle has made much of this problem, at times almost leaving the impression that if only Google had replicated all 166 Java API packages, Oracle would not have sued. While fragmentation is a legitimate business consideration, it begs the question whether or not a license was required in the first place to replicate some or all of the command structure. (This is especially so inasmuch as Android has not carried the Java trademark, and Google has not held out Android as fully compatible.) The immediate point is this: fragmentation, imperfect interoperability, and Oracle's angst over it illustrate the character of the command structure as a functional system or method of operation.

    [...] In Sony, the accused product implemented only 137 of the Playstation BIOS's 242 functions because those were the only functions invoked by the games tested. Connectixâ(TM)s Opening Appellate Brief at 18, available at 1999 WL 33623860, (9th Cir. May 27, 1999). Our court of appeals held that the accused product "itself infringe[d] no copyright." Sony, 203 F.3d at 608 n.11. This parallels Google's decision to implement some but not all of the Java API packages in Android.

    Oracle's obsession over fragmentation was turned against them because it showed they agree that the APIs are functional and hence not copyrightable. They seem oblivious to the fact that they were hoist by their own petard. Like the dinosaur they are, there is a long time delay before signals get transmitted to their tiny brains.

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

    by ppanon ( 16583 ) on Thursday May 31, 2012 @09:42PM (#40175525) Homepage Journal
    In many industries, that requirement might force the judge to recuse themselves because there are few opportunities to acquire that experience without being significantly involved with one of the litigants. Low barriers to entry for learning programming and the large number of players in the industry make it pretty easy for a judge to have that experience without being compromised. That would be harder in the petroleum, telco, or broadcast industries.
  • Re:Good to Know (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Thursday May 31, 2012 @09:53PM (#40175587) Homepage Journal

    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.

    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. Now there is some room for debating whether or not that really is the case, but that's the basic argument.

    This case, by contrast, says that the headers themselves cannot be copyrighted. What this means is that you are free to do what both the BSD and GPL folks seem to do on an almost daily basis—take some library (or set of functions within a library) that is under one license and reimplement it under a less/more restrictive license, keeping the same basic interface so that code can be compiled against either version of the library and still work correctly.

  • Re:A Dark Day (Score:4, Insightful)

    by pipatron ( 966506 ) <pipatron@gmail.com> on Thursday May 31, 2012 @10:07PM (#40175663) Homepage

    Guys, guys. This is not "Funny". This is scary and insightful. Corporations use this exact line to protect their precious patents, RIAA use it to protect their precious copyrights.

    Do you really think people would stop making music and invent things? Just as with APIs, it's done because there's a need and a demand.

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

    by bill_mcgonigle ( 4333 ) * on Thursday May 31, 2012 @11:43PM (#40176185) Homepage Journal

    he worked to learn the subject matter in order to properly apply the law to the material

    Being a hobbyist hacker himself helped a bunch too.

    Generally, we have people who don't understand the material arguing before an arbitrator who doesn't understand the material to get a decision from a group of people who don't understand the material. We call these decisions 'precedent'.

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

    by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Friday June 01, 2012 @01:55AM (#40176903) Journal

    It would have been bad, but not the end of the world as people keep believing. Calling APIs would have almost certainly been a fair use exemption and pretty much no vendor is likely actually sue over it even if it wasn't. You might have had some issues calling undocumented APIs, and stuff like WINE and SAMBA could have had issues if Microsoft had felt particularly inclined to do so.

    Bullshit. If copyright could be extended to APIs, it means whoever developed those APIs automatically can dictate how and by who they are accessed. I love the comment "WINE and Samba could have had issues". Even in your own "this ain't a big deal" post you admit, in a minimalistic sort of way, that Microsoft could potentially have had the power to invoke copyright over the work-alike APIs. For "problem" read "shut down".

    The biggest problem with this case is that both sides need to lose. Dalvik needs to be stopped, and copyrighting APIs needs to be stopped, more importantly someone needs to take the execs at Google into the alley out the back and beat them until they promise to stop doing this kind of shit. They knew damned well what they were doing and they've rolled the dice at terrible risk to everyone and spent millions of dollars getting into a pissing match they never should have started. If they'd just licensed Java in the first place none of this would have been necessary.

    1. They don't need to license Java. It's a programming language, and cannot be copyrighted (this is long standing in US and international IP law). And, as we see, they don't need to licence the JVM if they go out and build their own virtual machine.
    2. How is what Google did with Dalvik one bit different than what the GCJ team did allowing Java source to be compiled to native machine code? If Google is so evil for daring to develop it's own virtual machine, then the Gnu folks must be even worse for allowing a Java developer to bypass the JVM entirely.
    3. It's a free country. Don't use Dalvik if you don't want to. Maybe somebody needs to take you into the alley and beat a little respect for free enterprise into you.

  • by SplashMyBandit ( 1543257 ) on Friday June 01, 2012 @02:22AM (#40177043)

    Actually "Write Once, Run Anywhere" works - I know, back in the day I would write Java on a 16-bit Windows and run it on a 64-bit Irix machine. Stuff like that has continued for me throughout the years (these days I write on Mac OS X 64-bit and deploy to Linux, Windows 7 32 and 64), and I've never had a problem so far as long as I've only used the proper APIs and not implementation-specific class.

    Hence, my own experience over 17 years with Java has been that WORA actually works. I'd be interested in hearing your experience where you used a standard Java library and it didn't work. Otherwise, you are repeating incorrect hearsay.

  • by SplashMyBandit ( 1543257 ) on Friday June 01, 2012 @02:28AM (#40177079)
    You do realise that Stallman has subsequently said Java is ok since it is now GPL-ed, yeah?

This process can check if this value is zero, and if it is, it does something child-like. -- Forbes Burkowski, CS 454, University of Washington