Sunday, May 11, 2014

APIs can be copyrighted?

APIs can be copyrighted?  This strikes me as a strange court decision, one with lots of implications far beyond the software world.  Translated into the world of books, for example, this ruling would allow an author to copyright the characters and world characteristics in their novels – not just the novel itself.  For example, J.K. Rowling could copyright Harry Potter's world – and nobody else could write novels using them.  Last time I looked, there were several thousand novels and stories (most written by fans) using that world or derivatives of it.  If this ruling were applied to books, all of them would be copyright violators.

For the software world, this ruling, should it stand, will raise roadblocks for one of the fruitful paths for software innovation.  Like many other software engineers, I've personally reverse-engineered quite a few APIs so that I could write replacements that improved the original – making it more capable, faster, smaller, or sometimes just making it work correctly.  Had this ruling's logic been in place back then, I'd have been unable to do any of that.

I hope it's overturned.  More than that, though, I'd like to see our entire framework of intellectual property revisited, to take into account the realities of modern technology.  I'm not talking just about software here – music, visual art, and writing have all been impacted by modern technology.  Digital music and electronic book readers are familiar to us all, but even arts like painting and sculpture are seeing the impact of modern technology.  For example, one can now buy oil painting reproductions where even the brush strokes are robotically reproduced.  Even stone sculptures can now be precisely reproduced by large-scale 3D scanning and robotic sculptors.

The world, she's a-changing – and intellectual property law needs to change, too...

No comments:

Post a Comment