Today the Supreme Court resolved a decade of copyright litigation by supporting interoperability and openness, ruling that reimplementing an API by copying its declarations is legal fair use, even (or perhaps especially) when you’re building a competitive service. This was a case of two massive companies – Oracle and Google – fighting over Java, Android, and billions of dollars. But it was also about the quintessential user’s right and one of crucial importance to libraries: fair use. And after last year’s Georgia v. Public.Resource.Org decision, it has become the latest in a long line of Supreme Court decisions broadly supportive of fair use.
In a 6-2 decision, the Supreme Court held that Google’s copying of many declarations associated with the Java SE API (including only those lines of code that were needed to allow programmers to put their accrued talents to work in a new and transformative program with their own implementing code) was a fair use of that material as a matter of law. That means that this ruling applies to all APIs, not just the one at issue here.
“This decision is a win for the Open Web. In our digital world, businesses, nonprofits, libraries and individual developers use APIs everyday,” says Brewster Kahle, Internet Archive’s founder and Internet Hall of Famer. “We have seen copyright used as a tool to create enclosures and walled gardens. But the Court was clear: copyright cannot be used to harm the public interest.”
Importantly, the Court held that reimplementing the Java API was fair use even though Google copied the material intentionally. That fact actually supported a finding of fair use. That’s because Google’s purpose was “to allow programmers to work in a different computing environment without discarding a portion of a familiar programming language.” …