Following on from our earlier blog on the Google v Oracle battle over whether or not APIs could be copyrighted, Judge William Alsup of the U.S District Court has now held that the 37 APIs in question in the case are NOT protected by copyright.
An API can be defined as "An application programming interface is a specification intended to be used as an interface by software components to communicate with each other. An API may include specifications for routines, data, structures, object classes". In 2010, Oracle bought Sun Microsystems, which had developed Java. When it implemented the Android OS, Google wrote its own version of Java - but in order to allow developers to write their own programs for Android, Google relied on Java’s APIs." Oracle asserted a copyright in their APIs much to the consternation of web lobby groups such as the EFF who said that "Treating APIs as copyrightable would have a profound negative impact on interoperability, and, therefore, innovation".
Judge Alsup said "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. It does not matter that the declaration or method header lines are identical. Under the rules of Java, they must be identical to declare a method specifying the same functionality - even when the implementation is different. When there is only one way to express an idea or function, then everyone is free to do so and no one can monopolize that expression. And, while the Android method and class names could have been different from the names of their counterparts in Java and still have worked, copyright protection never extends to names or short phrases as a matter of law."
However CNET add that the case seems limited in its scope and the court seemed very keen not to set a broad precedent, with Judge Alsup saying
"This order does not hold that Java API packages are free for all to use without license" adding "It does not hold that the structure, sequence, and organization of all computer programs may be stolen. Rather, it holds on the specific facts of this case, the particular elements replicated by Google were free for all to use under the Copyright Act."
Google applauded the decision saying "The court's decision upholds the principle that open and interoperable computer languages form an essential basis for software development. It's a good day for collaboration and innovation."
More on CNET here http://news.cnet.com/8301-13578_3-57444928-38/judge-says-37-oracle-apis-are-not-copyrightable/?tag=nl.e496 and the full judgment can be found here http://www.scribd.com/doc/95478789/Oracle-v-Google-Judge-rules-APIs-not-copyrightable
In a statement Oracle said that they will appeal the decision saying that a 'licence has always been required for an implementation of the Java specification".