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.
Thread beginning with comment 516854
To view parent comment, click here.
To read all comments associated with this story, please click here.
RE[5]: NOT APIs
by galvanash on Thu 3rd May 2012 04:29 UTC 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[6]: NOT APIs
by Alfman on Thu 3rd May 2012 05:38 in reply to "RE[5]: NOT APIs"
Alfman Member since:
2011-01-28

galvanash,

I only read the article, in particular:

"The EU's highest court rejected these arguments. Computer code itself can be copyrighted, but functional characteristics—such as data formats and function names—cannot be."

This clearly describes a header file which contains no code as being non-copyrightable, but perhaps the article was misleading.


I thank you for the citations.

However I'm finding the "ideas & principals" argument to be somewhat contradictory with the conclusions.

Strongly typed languages like java store the entire class definition in binary form (java reverse compilers can recreate the source files almost line for line). Thus, the API is fully expressed in the binary. The binary expression of a compatible function/class prototype will very likely need to be identical to the binary expression of the original function/class prototype. So would the court still claim that an API is not copyrightable under those circumstances even when the language mandates the expression of such an API to be recorded the same way each time it is expressed as a binary?


To be honest, I preferred the article's stronger interpretation of explicit non-copyrightability where function names and prototypes were simply excluded from copyright without regards to how they are expressed.

Edited 2012-05-03 05:42 UTC

Reply Parent Score: 2

RE[7]: NOT APIs
by galvanash on Thu 3rd May 2012 06:26 in reply to "RE[6]: NOT APIs"
galvanash Member since:
2006-01-25

This clearly describes a header file which contains no code as being non-copyrightable, but perhaps the article was misleading.


I think it just boils down to how you acquire the header file to be honest. Let's say you write a header file for a library containing no functional inline code, nothing but interface declarations and constants. You then slap copyright on it.

If I copy the file and use it I would be violating the copyright. However, since the contents of the file are simply non expressive facts (and you cannot copyright facts) you could argue that copyright doesn't apply. This has always been the case, this ruling doesn't really change anything.

Or you could, instead of copying the code, simply instrument the library directly to discover its interface and then write a header that works the same way. The result would be the same, a functionally identical header, but clearly in the 2nd case you did not "copy" anything.

I think the EU ruling primarily applies to this scenario - i.e. recreating an interface (API) without having actually seen the copyrighted work (the implementation). It isn't new ground - reverse engineering was always legal (if done right) - it just strengthens existing law with another precedent. I think the only thing "new" is the part about not allowing licenses to bar reverse engineering.

However I'm finding the "ideas & principals" argument to be somewhat contradictory with the conclusions.

Strongly typed languages like java store the entire class definition in binary form (java reverse compilers can recreate the source files almost line for line). Thus, the API is fully expressed in the binary. The binary expression of a compatible function/class prototype will very likely need to be identical to the binary expression of the original function/class prototype. So would the court still claim that an API is not copyrightable under those circumstances even when the language mandates the expression of such an API to be recorded the same way each time it is expressed as a binary?


The ruling states you are allowed to instrument and observe a piece of software in order to determine its functional workings, and that those aspects of the work are not covered under copyright. If you did so and documented its interface and behavior and then created an independent implementation you would not be violating copyright, because the copyright doesn't cover the interface or behavior.

Reply Parent Score: 3