Can programming APIs be copyrighted? We thought we got our answer when Judge Alsup found in favor of Google, but it seems the Federal Circuit appeals court is not convinced, even in the very month another case brought closure to the same issue in Europe. A negative outcome could cede yet more advantage to Europe's technology innovators.
Finishing its long journey back in a British appeals court, the case of SAS vs. World Programming finally closed at the end of last month. In the end, World Programming was found to not have infringed SAS's copyright by re-implementing its programming environment.
There hadn't been much legal disagreement on the issue, with the U.K. High Court and Court of Appeal, as well as the European Court of Justice all concurring on the ruling -- the devil in the details drew out the lengthy appeals. This was the expected outcome in Europe, since the European Copyright Directive has long protected reverse-engineering of software for interoperability purposes. European companies are free to keep markets competitive this way.
Just 19 months ago, common sense seemed to prevail in the United States as well. In May 2012, Judge William Alsup ruled APIs noncopyrightable as part of the verdict in the epic trial of Oracle's attack on Google's Android platform. Inevitably, Oracle appealed, and this week we've been hearing reports of the progress of that appeal before a three-judge panel on the Federal Circuit. It's not looking good for programmers.