Java API Copyright Goes To The Supremes

This is a biggy, right up there with software-patents, “Google told the justices in a petition this week that assigning copyright to the code—the Application Programming Interfaces that enable programs to talk to one another—sets a dangerous precedent.
The appellate court’s May ruling, Google said, allows "copyright monopolies over the basic building blocks of computer design and programming."
Google said the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit’s decision would have allowed the Remington typewriter maker to stop others from using the QWERTY keyboard layout.”
copyright for APIs of software. Copyright should not apply to other’s works. If you write software to work with some API, no other authour should be able to forbid that or to tax that. Yet, that’s what Oracle wants to do and they found a lower court that agreed with that despite that being an illegal extension of copyright to others’ work. Stranger still, Java is FLOSS…

One can think of many practical examples of analogous cases which obviously don’t make sense. Because it’s software under consideration there should not be a different take. e.g. tires – if a maker of automobiles comes up with a new pattern of lugs, should makers of wheels be forbidden to make wheels for it? Nope. This is copyright, not patents. A wheel is not a derivative work of a hub.
e.g. doors – if a carpenter builds a house with a new size of door, should he be able to claim copyright exclusion on all the doors made for that size? Nope. Dimensions are not a creative work. They’re just numbers.
e.g. poetry – if I wrote a poem right here with a new structure of stanza, should I be able to exclude all other authours from using that structure for decades? Nope. Structure is not a creative work. It’s an arbitrary choice with no creativity at all. The creativity comes from finding new ways to exploit a new structure, not using the structure.
In any other field this matter would have been laughed out of court but because software is strange to lawyers and Oracle and Google are big rich corporations, it gets the time of day.

Let’s hope the Supremes do the right thing. They haven’t yet agreed to consider the case but it is vital and they do care about special cases like this where people overreach and courts get things wrong. Oracle’s response is due November 7.

See Google, Oracle Java API copyright battle lands at Supreme Court.

About Robert Pogson

I am a retired teacher in Canada. I taught in the subject areas where I have worked for almost forty years: maths, physics, chemistry and computers. I love hunting, fishing, picking berries and mushrooms, too.

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11 Responses to Java API Copyright Goes To The Supremes

  1. DrLoser says:

    The point is. ANY law or verdict that imposes restrictions on third-party re-implementations is really *bad* no matter how you cut it, because it *is* going to be used to impose some kind of vendor lock-in, aka some kind of monopoly.

    An all-encompassing assertion, Kurks, but let’s say I go with it as an immutable principle.

    Is it relevant in this particular case? I don’t see how.

  2. kurkosdr says:

    even such implementations have the same copy-protections as the DVD-CCA authorized ones, and only thing they do differently that is the lack of region-lock =
    even if such implementations have the same copy-protections as the DVD-CCA authorized ones, and only thing they do differently is the lack of region-lock

  3. kurkosdr says:

    Hmm… on a second thought, probably shouldn’t have used the DMCA/region-lock example. Because DrLoser is going to ignore everything I said and will start a generic blather about piracy, ignoring the fact the post below wasn’t at all about piracy, it was about the inability to import a region-free DVD player in the US and UK. Because there is a law that prevents third-party implementations not authorized by the DVD-CCA to be sold in the US and UK, even such implementations have the same copy-protections as the DVD-CCA authorized ones, and only thing they do differently that is the lack of region-lock.

    But, the “anti-circumvention provisions” was the first law that restricts third-party implementations, so it’s the only thing that came to mind.

    And if Oracle wins, there will be another restriction on third-party implementations, ready to be abused for lock-in. Yay!

  4. kurkosdr says:

    The point is. ANY law or verdict that imposes restrictions on third-party re-implementations is really *bad* no matter how you cut it, because it *is* going to be used to impose some kind of vendor lock-in, aka some kind of monopoly.

  5. kurkosdr says:

    ” And whatever they are, only a twelve-year-old or a Loon would go as far as to describe them as “legal protection for vendor lock-in.” ”

    And the anti-circumvention provisions of the DMCA weren’t granting the DVD-CCA a monopoly on DVD-Video software player implementations in the US and UK, which allowed them to impose region-lock on customers

    Riiight…

    Before you scream “CSS protects DVDs from filthy pirates”, let me tell you the 40-bit key used on CSS was known to be crackable even by a modest Pentium II. It wasn’t about making DVDs immune to copying software downloaded from abroad, CSS was put there as an “effective technological measure” to be granted legal protection from unauthorized “decrypting” (aka unauthorized implementations in DVD players sold in the US and UK), so the DVD-CCA can impose region-lock.

    ———

    Anyway, if you believe a possible Oracle win in the Supreme Court won’t be stretched by lawyers to impose restrictions on what APIs can be implemented and how (“your headers look the same as mine”), hence enchancing vendor lock-in, okay… you are right.

  6. kurkosdr wrote, “Want to build a compatibility layer for that API? Nope, the API itself is copyrighted. “

    So true. I can see many creators of software having to give users explicit permission to avoid lawyer-vultures circling overhead if this stands. Many lawyers for businesses will state the company will be liable if the use Java in any way because of the current ruling. That’s just ludicrous for software which was intended to promote “write once, run everywhere” and be open-sourced. If allowed to stand, what’s the next step? Is Oracle going to tax the world’s use of Java? Is Oracle going to write millions of licences for the unknown millions of users? Is any product developed by an infringing developer cool with Oracle? Is the world going to hold its breath? This goes far beyond Java as well. If Java APIs are copyright protected than so is every other API. I hope the Supremes rule decisively and the world can move on either by dropping Java or by sanity returning. Oracle has wet the bed on this one. The courts so far have dropped the ball, not understanding the technology nor the consequences of their ruling. The Supremes have a history of being somewhat more reflective although they often try to sneak out the side door than rule decisively. This needs a decision sooner rather than later.

  7. kurkosdr wrote, “Most of the software, especially OSes, is still made in the US. So, this will have consequences on what the maker of your OS of choice can put in the OS, no matter where you live.”

    That was probably true early on but globalisation of IT has spread the skills all over the world. M$, for instance, is using a lot of offshore coders. Linux kernel has a lot of overseas coders. GitHub has a lot of overseas coders. USA while still strong in IT is not the giant it once was. The world has advanced far faster than USA lately. e.g. Samsung, a maker of TVs, refrigerators, stoves and lately IT, has hired 20K programmers. They mostly don’t make operating systems but they contribute to several and create/tweak applications/drivers galore. That’s more programmers than M$ used to have. USA is also losing its lead in “patents”, PhDs, STEM and other measures of technological advancement. USA used to get ~50% of PCs a few years ago. In the beginning it was more than that. Now it is less than 20%. More people obtained IT last year outside of USA than decades of technological leadership in USA produced. The world can and does make its own software these days without any help from M$.

  8. DrLoser says:

    I hope Google wins this. Otherwise, it will essentially be legal protection for vendor lock-in.

    Er, Kurks, Google have already lost … in the Appellate Court. Should the Supreme Court make a judgement, it won’t be Google “winning,” it will just be a case law item on a very narrow interpretation of the issues. Whatever they are.

    And whatever they are, only a twelve-year-old or a Loon would go as far as to describe them as “legal protection for vendor lock-in.”

    Want to build a compatibility layer for that API? Nope, the API itself is copyrighted.

    Absolute nonsense, Kurks. Grow up. It means nothing of the sort.

  9. kurkosdr says:

    @ram

    Most of the software, especially OSes, is still made in the US. So, this will have consequences on what the maker of your OS of choice can put in the OS, no matter where you live.

  10. ram says:

    Like everything else, it will just apply to the USA. The rest of the world will ignore it, and the USA’s economy will continue to go down the toilet.

  11. kurkosdr says:

    I hope Google wins this.

    Otherwise, it will essentially be legal protection for vendor lock-in

    Want to build a compatibility layer for that API? Nope, the API itself is copyrighted.

    Emulators, even for ancient hardware progressively harder to find could be at risk, since the BIOS calls need to be emulated in order to make an emulator which doesn’t need an original BIOS file to work.

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