EFF Asks Supreme Court To Reverse Dangerous Rulings About API Copyrightability and Fair Use

High Court Can Put Computer Copyright Law Back on Track

Washington D.C.—The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) today asked the U.S. Supreme Court to rule that functional aspects of Oracle’s Java programming language are not copyrightable, and even if they were, employing them to create new computer code falls under fair use protections.

The court is reviewing a long-running lawsuit Oracle filed against Google, which claimed that Google’s use of certain Java application programming interfaces (APIs) in its Android operating system violated Oracle’s copyrights. The case has far-reaching implications for innovation in software development, competition, and interoperability.

In a brief filed today, EFF argues that the Federal Circuit, in ruling APIs were copyrightable, ignored clear and specific language in the copyright statute that excludes copyright protection for procedures, processes, and methods of operation.

“Instead of following the law, the Federal Circuit decided to rewrite it to eliminate almost all the exclusions from copyright protection that Congress put in the statute,” said EFF Legal Director Corynne McSherry. “APIs are not copyrightable. The Federal Circuit’s ruling has created a dangerous precedent that will encourage more lawsuits and make innovative software development prohibitively expensive. Fortunately, the Supreme Court can and should fix this mess.”

In the first round of the case, in 2014, the Federal Circuit reversed a lower court to find that APIs were copyrightable, but sent the case back for trial on fair use. In the second round, the court took the almost unprecedented step of overturning a jury verdict of fair use. If upheld, these dangerous and flawed decisions will continue to put at risk the ability of developers to freely create innovative software that benefit the public because it can be used across platforms and services.

“Treating the Java APIs as copyrightable gives Oracle, which stands to make billions from that decision, outsized control and monopoly power over the development of Java-compatible programs. Copyright law aims to stimulate creativity for the public good, not lock developers into a licensing scheme for the functional aspects of software,” said EFF Special Counsel Michael Barclay. “We’re strongly urging the Supreme Court to correctly apply copyright law in this case, and put right what the Federal Circuit got wrong.”

For EFF’s brief:
https://www.eff.org/document/amicus-brief-electronic-frontier-foundation

For more about this case:
https://www.eff.org/cases/oracle-v-google

Contact: 
Corynne
McSherry
Legal Director
Michael
Barclay
EFF Special Counsel

Monday 13th January 2020 7:54 pm

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