App Industry Leaders: API Not Subject to Copyright

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May 31, 2013 at 3:04PM

(May 31, 2013) – In a court filing, the Application Developers Alliance argues that an Application Programming Interface (API) is not subject to copyright. APIs are the building blocks of software development that allow programs to interact with each other. The Alliance joined with members Rackspace and TMSOFT as well as Stack Exchange to file an amicus brief urging the appeals court to uphold the decision of Judge William Alsup of the Northern District of California in Oracle v. Google.

“Don't be fooled by technical mumbo-jumbo. APIs are not such a complicated thing: they’re just the protocols computer programs use when they speak to each other. It's like using the + sign to mean addition. Letting one company copyright APIs would be like letting one company have a monopoly on the use of the + sign. It's nothing more than a ridiculous, shameful attempt to abuse the legal system for the purpose of extortion. Judge Alsup figured that out, and his ruling in the matter must stand to prevent a catastrophic collapse of the ability of computer programs and systems to work together," said Joel Spolsky, Chairman of the Application Developers Alliance Board of Directors and CEO and Co-founder of Stack Exchange.

“Free use of APIs allows app developers to collaborate, invent, and make products that consumers love. As a result app development has become one of our nation’s fastest growing industries. Subjecting declaring code to copyright protection would produce a stranglehold on innovation in the app development industry and leave the public with fewer and less useful apps and software products,” said Alliance President Jon Potter.

The brief argues that:

  • Declaring code is functional and should not be subject to copyright.
  • Re-implementation and free use of APIs is common practice, and is, in fact, a critical component of app development.
  • Aggregated control over APIs would stifle innovation in the development industry.

Read the full brief here (PDF).

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