Over on TechCrunch, MuleSoft CTO Uri Sarid has published an opinion piece that delves into the perils of copyrighting APIs. As many industry observers know, the API copyright issue came to the forefront after Oracle sued Google for infringing its copyrights to the APIs found in Java. Oracle acquired those copyrights when it acquired Sun Microsystems. But, by the time Oracle completed that acquisition, the source code to Java had been open sourced by Sun. The latest round of that lawsuit went in Google's favor. But Oracle is pursuing an appeal.
Although Google doesn't advertise it as a certifiably Java-compatible platform, Android's programmability is primarily achieved by its compatibility with the Java programming language and some of its APIs. For decades, the computer industry has operated under the principle that APIs themselves are not copyrightable because they are merely specifications (also known as contracts) for how to access certain types functionality. The actual interface part of the API does not involve copyrightable source code; it is just a spec for both the developer and the API provider to comply with (like the specification that allows a particular nut to fit a particular bolt). But, when Oracle sued Google, it drew into question that longstanding understanding in such a way that, should Oracle prevail in the long run, the decision could very easily impact APIs of all types (not just those found in Java or an operating system). At the very least, it would embolden the original designers of many APIs to sue others who have copied those APIs under the assumption that APIs are not copyrightable.
In this analysis, MuleSoft's Sarid explains how the software industry relies heavily on predictable patterns (such as the structure, sequence, and organization of APIs) and how any disruption of that longstanding practice will stifle both innovation and growth.
Disclosure: MuleSoft is the parent company to ProgrammableWeb. It acquired the media company (which remains committed to independent and objective coverage of the API economy) in 2013.