Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 2nd May 2012 22:32 UTC, submitted by PLan
Legal "The European Court of Justice ruled on Wednesday that application programming interfaces and other functional characteristics of computer software are not eligible for copyright protection. Users have the right to examine computer software in order to clone its functionality - and vendors cannot override these user rights with a license agreement, the court said." Bravo. A landmark ruling, for sure. If the US courts decide in favour of Oracle in the Google-Oracle case, Europe would instantly become an even friendlier place for technology companies.
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RE[3]: NOT APIs
by galvanash on Thu 3rd May 2012 03:13 UTC in reply to "RE[2]: NOT APIs"
galvanash
Member since:
2006-01-25

That's an incredibly insightful observation. If an API isn't copyrightable, and gets included into a project, then the project should not be considered derived from a copyrighted work.


And how would you include an API in a project? I don't understand the angle your looking at this from. Writing down the specifics of an API (whether in documentation or in source code) doesn't include the API, it merely expresses it. An API is an idea - it is the expression of the idea that is copyrighted, not the idea itself.

To put it another way, you can copyright a program that expresses a totally original idea, but your copyright does not cover the idea, it only covers your implementation. Anyone is free to look at what your program does and create an independent implementation that does exactly the same thing. Remember, we are not taking about patents...

Also, I don't understand this GPL vs LGPL thing that was brought up. The difference between those two licenses rest solely on an explicit exception in the LGPL to allow linking without the license affecting the linked work. How does this decision apply to this? Neither the GPL or the LGPL have any clauses in them concerning reverse engineering or barring the other party from creating an independent implementation. Hell, reverse engineering is practically encouraged in the OSS world...

As an aside... This ruling, if made in US courts, could possibly cast doubt on parts of the DMCA anti-circumvention law. I don't think it would invalidate it, but it does seemingly conflict with it - at least in spirit.

Edited 2012-05-03 03:30 UTC

Reply Parent Score: 4

RE[4]: NOT APIs
by Alfman on Thu 3rd May 2012 04:13 in reply to "RE[3]: NOT APIs"
Alfman Member since:
2011-01-28

galvanash,

"And how would you include an API in a project? I don't understand the angle your looking at this from. Writing down the specifics of an API (whether in documentation or in source code) doesn't include the API, it merely expresses it."


You'd include the expression of an API, in your words. In programming terms that'd be tantamount to a list of structures and function prototypes.

Are you arguing that API's aren't copyrightable, but expressions of that API are? I guess you might say that but I honestly don't think that's what the EU court was saying. I think they want to exclude "expressions of APIs" from copyrightability because there's so little room for meaningful expression when expressing a compatible API.


"Also, I don't understand this GPL vs LGPL thing that was brought up."

It's probably nothing, but if function prototypes in header files that used to be covered under the GPL license are no longer being covered, then it could be possible to release proprietary programs that link to GPL libraries as is normally permitted only under the LGPL.

http://www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl-faq.html#LinkingWithGPL

Edited 2012-05-03 04:20 UTC

Reply Parent Score: 2

RE[5]: NOT APIs
by galvanash on Thu 3rd May 2012 04:29 in reply to "RE[4]: NOT APIs"
galvanash Member since:
2006-01-25

Are you arguing that API's aren't copyrightable, but expressions of that API are?


Yes, but I'm not really arguing it - that is exactly what the court decision stated. Did you read the decision?

"The Court recalls, first, that the Directive on the legal protection of computer programs extends copyright protection to the expression in any form of an intellectual creation of the author of a computer program. However, ideas and principles which underlie any element of a computer program, including those which underlie its interfaces, are not protected by copyright under that directive.
Thus, only the expression of those ideas and principles is protected by copyright."


"As the Advocate General states in point 57 of his Opinion, to accept that the functionality of a computer program can be protected by copyright would amount to making it possible to monopolise ideas, to the detriment of technological progress and industrial development."


In other words they are saying that you can't copyright an API because APIs are not expressions of an idea - they are ideas. The expression (the source code, the documentation, whatever) can be copyrighted - but that does not protect the idea itself (i.e. it's form and function).

Reply Parent Score: 3

RE[5]: NOT APIs
by dylansmrjones on Thu 3rd May 2012 09:38 in reply to "RE[4]: NOT APIs"
dylansmrjones Member since:
2005-10-02

Are you arguing that API's aren't copyrightable, but expressions of that API are?"


That's exactly what the court did, and I'm surprised it was even necessary. Laws in EU are quite simple and awfully clear in this regard. An API is not copyrightable, but the implementation of the API is.

Or put differently: You can create headerfiles with the same names and with the same name for methods and variables, but the code must be different, since the code (the total combination) is copyrightable.

Reply Parent Score: 5

RE[4]: NOT APIs
by Slambert666 on Thu 3rd May 2012 04:23 in reply to "RE[3]: NOT APIs"
Slambert666 Member since:
2008-10-30

Also, I don't understand this GPL vs LGPL thing that was brought up. The difference between those two licenses rest solely on an explicit exception in the LGPL to allow linking without the license affecting the linked work. How does this decision apply to this? Neither the GPL or the LGPL have any clauses in them concerning reverse engineering or barring the other party from creating an independent implementation. Hell, reverse engineering is practically encouraged in the OSS world...


If the API itself isn't copyrightable is the "use" of the API then copyrightable?
GPL says yes it is copyrightable and this affects other works that links to it.
However if the use of the API is not copyrightable then the difference between GPL and LGPL cease to exist.
It also raises the question of when are you modifying a work and when are you using an API, it all becomes very muddy.

Reply Parent Score: 2

RE[5]: NOT APIs
by galvanash on Thu 3rd May 2012 04:38 in reply to "RE[4]: NOT APIs"
galvanash Member since:
2006-01-25

I think your off on a wild tangent. No offense meant, I just don't see any correlation between this ruling and the GPL/LGPL at all. Its simple:

1. The GPL/LGPL are licenses based purely in copyright law.
2. You cannot copyright an idea, only expressions of idea.
3. An API is an idea.

Thus the GPL/LGPL simply do not apply to APIs... They apply to the code you wrote, not the idea (API) being expressed. The linking clause (the distinction between the two licenses) has nothing to do with APIs or ideas - it is about what constitutes a derived work. The way linking is implemented is a function of the language you choose to use - it has nothing at all to do with your code or what it expresses.

If the API itself isn't copyrightable is the "use" of the API then copyrightable?
GPL says yes it is copyrightable and this affects other works that links to it.


No. You are linking to an implementation, not an API - it is the implementation that affects the other works that link to it. The GPL doesn't cover the arrangement of interfaces in a library (i.e. it's API) - it only covers the underlying source code and its binary representation when run.

If someone writes a 100% compatible independent implementation without using any of the source code from the GPL version they are free to license it however they see fit - they did not violate the copyright of the GPL code and thus are not affected by it.

Edited 2012-05-03 04:47 UTC

Reply Parent Score: 8