For the past 20 years, it has been widely believed that application program interfaces (APIs) were not protectable by copyright law because they were necessary to enable interoperability among programs, a kind of functionality that copyright law does not protect. In the Oracle v Google case, a trial judge ruled that the Java APIs that Google reimplemented in independently written code for the Android platform were unprotectable by copyright law, relying on several prior appellate court decisions interpreting copyright as applied to APIs. The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) decided not to follow those rulings and reversed the lower court, holding that the Java APIs are indeed protectable by copyright law. The reasoning adopted in the CAFC decision not only nixes Google's main defense in the case, but also calls into question the rulings in other interoperability cases. In the fall of 2014 Google asked the Supreme Court to review the CAFC's ruling. The Court will decide in early 2015 whether to hear this appeal. This talk will discuss what's at stake in the case, what the legal issues being debated are, what impact the CAFC's ruling will have if the Supreme Court decides not to review it, and what may happen if the Supreme Court does hear the case.
Pamela Samuelson is the Richard M. Sherman '74 Distinguished Professor of Law and Information at the University of California at Berkeley and a Faculty Director of the Berkeley Center for Law & Technology. She has written and spoken extensively about the challenges that new information technologies pose for traditional legal regimes, especially for intellectual property law. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, a Fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), a Contributing Editor of Communications of the ACM, a past Fellow of the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and an Honorary Professor of the University of Amsterdam. She is a member of the Board of Directors of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. She joined the Berkeley faculty in 1996 after serving as a professor at the University of Pittsburgh Law School. She has visited at Columbia, Cornell, Harvard, and NYU Law Schools.