Oracle copied Amazon’s API– was that copyright violation?

Oracle v. Google–.

Opinion: Copying APIs is important to competitors in the software application market.

Charles Duan

An Oracle building in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Enlarge/ An Oracle structure in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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He has authored several amicus curiae briefs in the litigation in between Oracle and Google, as well as the short article Web of Infringing Things: The Effect of Computer User Interfaces on Technology Standards

Early this year, the Supreme Court will hear an important case that will identify the legal status of application programs user interfaces under copyright law. If the high court sides with Oracle in its multibillion-dollar suit against Google’s Android platform, it might suppress competitors and entrench dominant technology companies– potentially consisting of Google itself.

Oracle has actually implicated Google of infringing copyright law by copying the API of the Java shows language.

Google’s Android was developed to be compatible with the Java API so that programmers currently familiar with Java might easily bring their software and understanding over to the brand-new mobile device platform. Oracle’s argument is that this “reimplementation” of the Java API is on par with writing an unapproved “Harry Potter” unique and thus a violation of Oracle’s copyrights in the command names and structures of the Java API.

But the Java API is not the only API, and Android is not the only reimplementation. APIs are found all over modern innovation, and reimplementation is an essential part of ensuring competition in the computer system industry and avoiding large-firm lock-in.

Did Oracle infringe copyright by copying Amazon’s S3 API?

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Consider Amazon’s popular information storage platform, S3. To permit programmers to store and recover files on S3, Amazon developed a comprehensive, comprehensive API for communicating with the service. To get a list of kept files, for example, one sends out the command name GET with the folder name as a grammatical item, together with cryptically tagged information such as encoding-type, continuation-token, and – x-amz-date Software needs to utilize these precise, cryptic terms and a bevy of others to deal with Amazon S3.

To persuade programmers to change away from Amazon’s offerings, those rivals reimplement S3’s API. In doing so, the rivals should simulate the command names, parameter tags, “ x-amz” phrasing, grammatical structure, and overall company of the S3 API– in other words, precisely the kind of thing Oracle argues is safeguarded by copyright.

To be sure, a rival might utilize a various programs language than Amazon did so the internal software code might not look like verbatim copying. Carrying out an API in another computer system language is simply an act of translation, and equating a copyrighted work into another language is particularly understood to be a copyright infringement.

Among the companies using a copy of Amazon’s S3 API is Oracle itself In order to work with S3, Oracle’s “Amazon S3 Compatibility API” copies various components of Amazon’s API, down to the x-amz tags.

Did Oracle infringe Amazon’s copyright here? Ars Technica called Oracle to ask if they had a license to copy Amazon’s S3 API. An Oracle spokeswoman said that the S3 API was certified under an Apache 2.0 license. She pointed us to the Amazon SDK for Java, which does certainly featured an Apache 2.0 license.

However, the Amazon SDK is code that uses the S3 API, not code that implements it– the distinction between a consumer who orders hash browns and the Waffle Home cook who translates the orders. Oracle can’t at the same time argue that API-using code does not embody copyrighted product from an API, and yet API-using code embodies all copyrights in the API required to offer Oracle the right to reimplement S3.

Even if the Apache license does use, Oracle does not appear to abide by the regards to the license. Area 4 of the Apache license needs notices and attribution statements attached to acquired works. Yet I find no attribution to Amazon or appropriate reference of an Apache license on Oracle’s documentation or anywhere on the website.

API copyrights could develop a legal minefield

Oracle is by no method alone in reimplementing an API like Amazon S3. Technical requirements like Wi-Fi and Web protocols– the glue that keeps the information economy connected– all include APIs, and every computer system and device that uses any modern interaction technology necessarily reimplements them. Oracle’s copyright theory could turn almost anything you do with a computer system– from checking out an online document to enjoying a video– into a legal minefield.

To prevent these far-reaching consequences, Oracle and the appeals court that endorsed Oracle’s arguments have actually attempted to restrict copyright infringement to partial reimplementations of an API that are “incompatible” with the initial. Even Oracle’s S3 compatibility API notes its various “distinctions” and incompatibilities with Amazon’s API.

The threat of Oracle’s copyright claim is that it might prevent smaller innovation companies from building compatible variations of dominant software application platforms. Without such compatibility, software application developers knowledgeable about a dominant firm’s API will successfully be locked into that firm’s offerings. Sure, the rivals can request for consent to utilize an API, however providing companies gatekeeper power over competition through copyright law can not bode well for a robustly competitive software application market.

Update: Oracle sent out Ars Technica the following declaration.

The Apache license is a liberal open source license and any use-case-specific argument (e.g., “SDK vs. non-SDK”) does not change the accessibility or nature of the license. It allows downstream users to copy and customize code, and use the code in their own tasks, with few restrictions. That is why Apache-licensed code is widely utilized in industrial items. AWS comprehends this and undoubtedly purposely selected to utilize a more liberal vs. more restrictive license (such as the GPLv.2).

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