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The Supreme Court rules Google's use of the Java APIs was "fair use". Yay!

That's better than the alternative, but it would be nice if they had also looked at whether APIs are copyrightable in the first place.

Narrator: "They shouldn't be."

supremecourt.gov/opinions/20pd

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@ksclarke If I understand correctly, the API structure and methods are not protected by copyright; but the "declaring code" is, which is the one Google copied verbatim.

@ksclarke "Google also contends that declaring code is not copyright-able because the “merger doctrine” bars copyright protection when there is only one way to express an idea. That argument fails for the same reasons Google’s §102(b) argument fails. Even if the doctrine exists, Google admits that it is merely an application of §102(b). And, in any event, there may have been only one way for Google to copy the lines of declaring code, but there were innumerable ways for Oracle to write them. Certainly, Apple and Microsoft managed to create their own declaring code." 593 U. S

@avalos I'm not sure I understand that part correctly (IANAL, fwiw). I'll have to re-read that part, and the links, again. Thanks for calling it out.

@ksclarke Copyright applies to actual works: pieces of text, pictures and so on, not to the ideas they represent. So, if Google had just reimplemented the functions with the same names it'd have been a different court case to this one where they copied the actual file of declarations.

@avalos

@ksclarke Assuming in the first place the general idea that program code is a work subject to copyright, I don't see how header files could be not copyrightable. This doesn't mean clean implementations (not copying any actual text) would be subject to IP restrictions.

I imagine they'll be a lot more cases probing the boundaries when this sort of copying is fair use.

@avalos

@edavies I don't know. APIs aren't implementations. They're just definitions, functional. I personally don't see that much difference between using the files vs. copying the method names off of the Javadocs or something. That seems like a distinction without a difference to me. Again, though, IANAL.

@ksclarke Agreed, there's an issue of how large a piece of text needs to be to be considered a work for copyright purposes. A single word though, even a typically large Java class name, seems a bit small.

@ksclarke @technomancy I agree that would have been best, but the fact that they found it fair use “as a matter of law“ has pretty broad implications. It is just about the most positive possible outcome short of declaring them not copyrightable.

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