copyrightable APIs? (was RE: namespace protection compatible wit

Rod Dixon rodd at
Fri Apr 20 18:34:38 UTC 2001

I doubt whether we will resolve the copyrightability question. I think the
better view is that an API is not copyrightable subject matter. I also
think that viewing an API as such better serves the purposes of copyright
law. Even so, I agree that the more important question is if you assume
that an API *IS* copyrightable, what next? The answer is that programmers
have an implied license to copy. Of course, that does not mean a
programmer ought to be able to copy an entire API for a given programming
environment, but it does mean that most copies of an API function or
routine do not exceed the implied license. (BTW, not to add to any
confusion, but my use of the term copy is in the strict copyright sense
that applies to software).


On Fri, 20 Apr 2001, Chloe Hoffman wrote:

> In my view, an API is as much a collection of facts as your original
> message, as Stephen King's latest novel, etc. I think in most cases an
> API involves creative expression or at least some selection, arrangement
> or coordination of function names, parameter type(s) and return type(s)
> (of course I am not talking about the simple abstract concept of an API;
> I am talking about a set of developed APIs). Surely if an API is just one
> function then you have a de minimis problem. But let's take the Java API.
> Taking U.S. law as an example, I would think that after you take whatever
> material (functions, return types, parameter types, parameter names,
> etc.) that is not copyrightable (by virtue of, for example, the merger
> doctrine(the idea and expression merged into one and there is no other
> way of expressing it), the scenes a faire doctrine (only so many ways of
> expressing the idea) and being in the public domain) there would be a
> great deal of material left over that involved creative expression or at
> least serious selection, coordination, or arrangement. For copyright to
> attach only minimal originality is needed. I can't see the argument
> flying that the Java API is like a purely alphabetical white pages.
> I think the real question is not whether an API is copyrightable but how
> an API is infringed and what is a derivative work of an API.
> >From: "Forrest J Cavalier III"
> >Reply-To: forrest at
> >To:
> >CC: forrest at
> >Subject: copyrightable APIs? (was RE: namespace protection compatible
> wit
> >Date: Fri, 20 Apr 2001 07:50:06 -0400
> >
> >How can you copyright an API? Isn't it simply a
> >collection of facts?
> >
> >Perhaps you could copyright the formal parameter
> >names, and certainly the documentation in a header
> >file.
> >
> >But the facts of
> > function name,
> > return type(s)
> > parameter type(s)
> >are just facts. There is no creative expression involved.
> >
> >Forrest J. Cavalier III, Mib Software Voice 570-992-8824
> > has over 30,000 links to
> >source, libraries, functions, applications, and documentation.
> ________________________________________________________________________________
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