Oracle Copyright Problem for the Industry

As it is written, White House sides with Oracle, tells Supreme Court APIs are copyrightable. At this point, what has been said is an opinion. It is not yet law and may never be law. If it does become law, the tech industry is going to change in a big way. It will be for the worse, but that is only the conclusion.

Truth is Oracle does have the right to copyright API and there are few things in law that are not copyrightable. Cannot ignore that. The problem for those who deal in software code is that those who want it to be another way are in the minority in terms of active representation of their view. It is almost too late to change course.

Anyway, API copyright means as soon as you look at the pages of a book on Java, you are doomed. Do a web search and see code snippets from Java API, you’re doomed. You cannot avoid seeing API, it is going to be in your face. Copyright is also on a path towards having the force of patent law. Even worse when you have the equivalent of cyber squatting for API names. Big money.

API are written words and words can be copyrighted. There is a larger conversation that could be had about copyright. No one is going to have it because the status quo is acceptable for a larger number of people. The issue as computer scientists and practitioners see it does not register in the larger public conscious which practically dooms the effort to resolve the matter satisfactorily.

Copyright of API is not a course for innovation. Oracle purchased Java, a technology created not in the spirit of copyright but in the spirit of open collaboration. The unique nature of Java is in the process of being more broadly converted into a means of wealth enlargement. The collateral damage in the legal precedent set is of little matter. That is a separate issue from innovation. Wealth and innovation are not the same things and one does not necessarily precipitate the other.

A high price will have to be paid if the ideas behind the copyright of Java API are consummated. The natural mental handcuffs technologists may subject themselves concerning things that risk accidental infringement of proprietary concerns may only exacerbate. Many will be stalled in their tentative efforts to express ideas as the landscape of creation becomes a landmine of automatic offence.

Little comfort that there are alternative languages such as C++, C, and many others. What is the scope of copyright in technology? The larger body of work or the most minute element? The risks loom large either way. My words have the tinge of exaggeration as in reality, the matter may not resolve for many years hence allowing many to continue onward oblivious but who knows?


The academic community, the open source crowd, the millions out there who are unaffiliated with the matter but don’t like the sting of having their ideas or pursuit of ideas rolled back because someone did something similar have a few choices. Exercise perfect discipline in not using technologies or going anywhere near such technologies that have this mark of restriction. Just leave proprietary stuff alone. Simply decide to rebuild anew an ecosystem in such a way this cannot be and the word must go out about this without end.


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