The basic question "are APIs eligible for copyright
protection?" has consumed much analysis (and legal fees)
during the lawsuit between Oracle and Google, which started in
2010. (For more reading on our long-running coverage of the
long-running Oracle vs. Google patent and copyright
litigation, see below.)
The basic premise of Oracle's complaint against Google is
that the wildly popular Android operating system copied 37 Java API
packages verbatim, and inserted the code from those APIs into the
Android software. This copying was done without a license from
Oracle. Therefore, says Oracle, copyright infringement has
occurred. In a 2012 decision, the district court decided that the
Java APIs were not subject to copyright protection.
Therefore, said the lower court, there was no infringement. The US
Federal Court of Appeals has reversed that finding.
69-page decision released on May 9, 2014, the
appeal court has decided that these Java APIs are subject
to copyright protection, and concluded as follows: "Because we
conclude that the declaring code and the structure , sequence, and
organization of the API packages are entitled to copyright
protection, we reverse the district court's copyrightability
determination with instructions to reinstate the jury's
infringement finding as to the 37 Java packages . Because the jury
deadlocked on fair use, we remand for further consideration of
Google's fair use defense in light of this decision." In
short, Google has infringed Oracle's
copyright, and the question to be determined now is
whether Google has a "fair use" defense to that
The EFF has called the decision
dangerous since it exposes software developers to
copyright infringement lawsuits. However, for software vendors, it
may help strengthen the controls they place on developers to
maintain standards and cross-compatibility through licensing. After
all, that was (in theory) one of the complaints raised by Oracle -
that its "write once, run anywhere" Java principle was
violated when Google mis-used the Java APIs to essentially bring
Android out of compatibility with the Java platform.
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A recent Saskatchewan Court of Queen's Bench decision allowed a court-appointed receiver to sell and transfer intellectual property rights free and clear of encumbrances, finding that a license to use improvements of an invention was a contractual interest and not a property interest.
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