November 2, 2012 | By Julie Samuels

No Copyrights on APIs: Help Us Make The Case

Earlier this year, we applauded District Court Judge Alsup for getting it right and holding that, as a matter of law, one could not copyright APIs. The case, Oracle v. Google, is now on appeal to the Federal Circuit, where a three-judge panel is going to revisit Judge Alsup’s ruling.

We’ve explained before why allowing tying up APIs with copyright protection would be so dangerous. This is what we said then:

Here’s the problem: Treating APIs as copyrightable would have a profound negative impact on interoperability, and, therefore, innovation. APIs are ubiquitous and fundamental to all kinds of program development. It is safe to say that all software developers use APIs to make their software work with other software.

We need your help explaining this to the Federal Circuit. Are you a developer? An engineer? Do you benefit from widespread access to APIs? We want to hear from you. Let us know (at api@eff.org) if you have experience with any of the following specific examples:

1. Software reimplementing someone else’s API, calling someone else’s API, or any other uses of third-party APIs for interoperability, competition, or innovation. For example:

  • Eucalyptus reimplemented the Amazon API to offer a competing cloud storage service.
  • Samba, a free networking program, interacts with and responds to Microsoft’s SMB API so that computers running the two programs can be networked together.
  • Apache Harmony is an open-source reimplementation of Java SE.

2. Reimplementation of an API, where the resulting software benefitted the original API creator, perhaps by increasing the creator’s user base or otherwise benefitting the developer community.

We look forward to hearing your stories and using them to explain to the judges on the Federal Circuit why it’s so important that they follow Judge Alsup’s lead and rule that APIs are not copyrightable.


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