[License-discuss] [License-review] Copyright on APIs

Lukas Atkinson opensource at lukasatkinson.de
Sat Jun 29 16:58:00 UTC 2019

I do not think the question of whether API copyright exists is that
relevant for review. Clearly, it is not in the interest of the open source
community for such a right to exist, as Bruce points out. But where such a
right does exist it ought to be fine for an open source license to exercise
that right as part of a copyleft mechanism.

In this sense, the failing of the CAL is not that it also covers API
copyright, but that it claims such a right regardless of whether it
actually exists in the relevant jurisdictions. As a thought experiment, if
the CAL were reworded so that it clearly only claims to cover API copyright
if that right exists:

 - would that be an OSD 5 violation because it effectively gives different
rights to licensees depending on their jurisdictions? Licensees in a
jurisdiction without API copyright would have more rights. But isn't that
the case with any license since local copyright laws might offer some
copyright exception? Jurisdiction-specific concerns also tie in to the
“public performance” discussion.

 - would this make the license less clear? Users might not know whether API
copyright applies to them. But arguably, other license's effects (such as
the GPL's effects with dynamic linking) are just as murky.

 - would this be strategically undesirable because it would promote the
creation of API copyright where it doesn't already exist?

I am very conflicted on each of these points and could argue them either

Since it is not yet 100% clear whether API copyright exists in any
jurisdiction and what its effects are, it would be better for the CAL to
ignore this – for the time being. However, it might be a good idea to
future-proof the license to allow API copyleft once it is established more
clearly. For example:

 - a mechanism for additional terms similar to GPLv3 section 7, and allow
terms that add API copyleft. The CAL already has a small case of such a
mechanism with its Combined Work Exception.

 - a license compatibility mechanism similar to the Creative Commons
licenses, so that API copyleft could be patched in a later version.
However, this raises the question of who may deem a license compatible. For
the CC and GPL licenses this only works because the license steward is
widely trusted. I'm personally not a fan of the GPL's opt-in to
compatibility since that leads to a fractured ecosystem.
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