Supreme Confusion


We are used to the Supreme Court making news for things like affirmative action or marriage equality. If things keep going the way they are headed they may soon be picking the bones out of an even more opaque area of the law.  The question at hand is can an API be copyrighted. It sounds like a horribly inside baseball argument and to an extent it is. Oracle is suing Google over what they claim was its infringement of twenty seven APIs when it first crafted Android back in 2010. An API (Applications Programming Interface) is how one computer program or system talks to another, in many case (as with the systems we build at Search Initiatives) it’s how components of a larger system communicate internally. They are designed to be used by other software builders so it would make intuitive sense that although the code which they communicate with might be proprietary the actual interfaces themselves would be fair game. Not so fast! argues Oracle.  They claim Google stole and repurposed wholesale a core set of APIs which they don’t normally licence and which in of themselves constitute original work.

The issue has been argued and ruled on back and forth with Google losing the last round. As is the Google Way, Google litigates everything to the highest level. If you want to take on Big G you better have deep pockets and clever lawyers. The only place left to go is the Supreme Court.  If the Supreme Court agrees to take it on we will be hearing a lot more about this arcane tech area. It may actually be an important area. APIs are widely used in all kinds of tech and we think of them as being more or less open source.  If they are suddenly a proprietary component it may well change the way we all build the tech tools we use every day. It’s not anywhere near as interesting as marriage equality…but it might well end up being a very important decision.

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