McKendrick: Should APIs be copyrighted?

InsightaaS:  ZDNet is a source of many interesting blogs, including the "Service Oriented" blog authored by Joe McKendrick. In this post, McKendrick reviews the implications of a recent decision in a legal battle between Oracle and Google over API copyright. McKendrick asks "What does it mean if APIs can be copyrighted?" and notes that this is a huge issue: "By some counts, there are more than 10,000 public-facing APIs, and it is projected that there may be between 100,000 to 200,000 public and private APIs this year." McKendrick does a good job of presenting multiple perspectives on the issue, and the post currently includes updates from both Oracle (with whom InsightaaS would not side in this debate) and the EFF (with which we generally agree, both out of principle and out of respect for an indirect link to the Grateful Dead). One extremely interesting extension to this post is the stream of comments: over 125 to date, which for the most part reflect both understanding of and passion around the issue.

In the latest chapter of an ongoing legal battle, a U.S. appeals court has just ruled that Oracle can be granted copyright protection for its Java APIs in a battle with Google over Android's inclusion of the code. As reported by ZDNet colleague Zack Whittaker, the case dates back to 2010, when Oracle took Google to court alleging that Google had violated Oracle's Java copyright with the inclusion of 37 Java APIs within its Android mobile OS. The court ruled in May 2012 that the structure of the Java APIs were not copyrightable. The appellate court just reversed that ruling.

What does it mean if APIs can be copyrighted? Will this have a chilling effect on the burgeoning API economy, and the flexibility of developers and enterprises to build and connect their digital ventures? Or will it afford developers some protection over the fruits of their labors?

The stakes are potentially high. As fellow ZDNet contributor Stilgherrian recently pointed out, the only businesses that can compete from this point going forward are those that leverage APIs for back-end services and digital capabilities.

Some industry observers say nothing good can come of copyrighting APIs...

Read the entire post (and comments!):