Tuesday, 30 April 2013

On Copyrightable APIs

Recently, Cloudbees wrote a blog post talking about the copyrightability of APIs, and particularly as it relates to the second round of litigation between Oracle & Google.

As the CEO of a startup, I am extremely concerned about ensuring that playing fields remain level, and that new, potentially lucrative markets remain with low barriers to entry for startups.

However, as I discussed last year, I remain conflicted about this issue. I'm concerned that if APIs are not copyrightable, then there is no legal recourse to prevent a company producing a partial implementation of a standard. This then could be used to weaken exactly the freedom to move between vendors that Sacha & Steve were discussing.

I'm also reminded of the "Embrace, Extend & Extinguish" strategy famously used by Microsoft.

I know that Cloudbees & I share a lot of goals & motivations - to promote an ecosystem which is open to new entrants, which is supportive of developers, and which provides protection for end-users (who may be making substantial investments in the technology).

I understand the risk of barriers to entry, but for end-users the fragmentation of standards could conceivably be worse.

I wonder what else we can do to move this discussion on - in particular, is there any quantitative evidence (or failing that, past examples) that can help us here? Sacha & Steve - any thoughts?

Standard Disclaimer: I don't have any real dog in the Oracle / Google fight. I represent the London Java Community on the Java Community Process Executive Committee, and our position is to promote open standards, which can be implemented by open-source projects on a royalty-free (RF) basis. I have many friends at both Oracle & Google, have spoken at events organised by both companies many times, and hold stock in neither firm.

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