It looks like we finally have a victor in this match of tech heavyweights, but is it win for the overall software community? Oracle has won an appeal in a case against Google over its use of Java to build Android. Oracle was looking to obtain copyright protection for its Java APIs, explaining that Google’s use of the Java code in Android OS was an infringement of their rights. The case began years prior to this win, but Google was able to escape the original lawsuit initiated by Oracle. Oracle, the house of the Java programming language, didn’t give up on the case, turning to an appeals court to overturn the ruling, claiming that “the declaring code and the structure, sequence, and organization of the API packages are entitled to copyright protection”.
The case, which dates as far back as 2010, began with Oracle suing Google for including 37 Java APIs in Android OS without any sort of compensation. In May of 2012, US District Court Judge William Alsup ruled that the Java APIs couldn’t be copyrighted, which was just reversed by the appeals court.
Despite being free to developers, Java does include a fee for commercial use. Oracle seeks to get over $1 billion in damages from Google, after the appeal on Friday.
So, what does this mean for everyone else? We can expect this kind of copyright success story to create restrictions on what software developers are able to safely use in their code. This loss for Google could mean a loss for much of the software industry. Since the majority of programming is a derivative of something else, a copyright on APIs could limit work and progress for software. Of course, this would only be if other companies decide to enforce copyright on their APIs, but Oracle’s highly publicized win could give others some bright ideas.
This could also make it harder for businesses to build relationships based on the shared APIs. The flexibility of the APIs have given many enterprises reasons to connect and collaborate, but an overprotective mindset could mean that we would see less neighborly love in the software community. APIs are also important in making software compatible with each other so copyrights could hinder interconnectedness and innovation.
Oracle set out with the intention to prevent Java fragmentation, but some specialists believe that copyrighting APIs isn’t the correct path to solving the issue. Instead, seeking copyright protection could overly complicate the process of API usage. In fact, many APIs are already likely to be similar, if not identical, because of the way that they are all constructed.
To clarify, an application-programming interface (API) contains programming instructions and standards that provide access to Web-based software. The basis of most APIs is to release the tool publicly for other software developers to use in their products. Obviously, copyrights would go against the intent of APIs.
While Oracle is very pleased by the success of the appeal, Google believes that this ruling could’ve a negative effect on computer science and software.
Should software developers be allowed some sort of protection for their hard work, or should APIs be designated for public use, allowing for faster, less painful development process?