Friday, May 31, 2013

Computer Scientists' Brief in Oracle v. Google

Yesterday EFF filed the latest amicus brief on which I worked, in the Oracle v. Google appeal.  As I previously discussed, Judge William Alsup of the Northern District of California had ruled that Java APIs are not copyrightable, at least to the extent of Google's limited use of the APIs in Android.  Judge Alsup relied on the Lotus v. Borland case I worked on many years ago, and other similar cases, to reject Oracle's copyright claim.

Oracle appealed the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, and it is now being briefed.  Groklaw has detailed discussions of Oracle's opening brief and of Google's brief.

EFF's amicus brief is filed on behalf of 32 notable computer scientists, including Larry Roberts (one of the inventors of ARPANET), Tim Paterson (who wrote the original MS-DOS program), Bjarne Stroustrup (the inventor of C++), and many others.  Their bios are here.  EFF's press release about the brief is here; Groklaw's article is here.

 The computer scientists' brief traces the history of APIs in the computer industry, starting with the original IBM PC thirty years ago, and continuing up until the present.  The brief shows that the exclusion of APIs from copyright protection has been essential to the development of modern computers and the Internet, and the key to competition and progress in the computer field.  Examples include PC clones, operating systems such as UNIX and Linux, programming languages such as "C,", Internet network protocols, and cloud computing.  Because APIs are open, developers can create compatible new programs, and users can use their data in different applications without being locked into a single platform.

The brief also explains that the uncopyrightable nature of APIs encourages the creation of new software that otherwise would have been written, and also helps rescue users when software goes "orphan" because its original creators have abandoned their product.  In both cases, the open nature of APIs enables the creation of compatible software.

The case is being heard in the Federal Circuit because Oracle had also sued Google on patent claims.  Oracle lost those at trial, but is only appealing its copyright loss.  The Federal Circuit must apply Ninth Circuit copyright law, which together with the First Circuit's decision in Lotus strongly suggests that Google should win this case.


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