How to Register your API with the Copyright Office

May 16, 2014 | 2 Comments
Posted by Kurt E. Anderson

The Federal Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision last week in Oracle v. Google has been touted as a decision that application programming https://www.viagrasansordonnancefr.com/ interfaces (APIs) are copyrightable.  See, for example, the article “Tech World Stunned as court ruled Oracle can own APIs.”  So the next logical question is how does one go about registering copyright in an API with the US Copyright Office?  I decided to look.
Before we get to the punchline, a quick point of clarification.  I suspect that the statement that APIs are now copyrightable takes the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision a little too far.  I don’t think that the court ruled that all APIs are, categorically, subject to copyright protection.  Rather, it seems more accurate to say that the court found that APIs are not precluded from copyright protection merely because they are also functional.   To quote the court:

  Because Oracle “exercised creativity in the selection and arrangement” of the method declarations when it created the API packages and wrote the relevant declaring code, they contain protectable expression that is entitled to copyright protection.  Oracle v. Google, 2104 U.S.App.LEXIS 8744, *52 (2014) citing Atari Games Corp. v. Nintendo of Am., Inc., 975 F.2d 832, 840 (Fed. Cir. 1992).

OK, so if an API may be entitled to copyright protection, then it must also be capable of being registered with the Copyright Office.  It turns out that it is!  Apparently the Copyright Office was not as stunned by the decision as was the tech world.  In fact (admittedly to my surprise) the Copyright Office has been registering APIs since at least as early as 1992!  There are only 13 registered works entitled “application programming interface.”  Some of them may not actually be APIs, but rather may be books or guides, but some of them clearly appear to be APIs.

The question is how are these things registered?  After all, APIs are not computer programs.  Right?

Wrong.  According to the Copyright Office Circular 61 (Copyright Registration for Computer Programs):

A “computer program” is a set of statements or instructions to be used directly or indirectly in a computer in order to bring about a certain result.

By this definition, since APIs are a set of statements which are used (at least indirectly) in a computer in order to bring about a certain result (i.e., an invocation or call to a particular function in an independent application, operating system or other computer program), it would appear that APIs should be registrable as computer programs.  As a last bit of trivia, the most recent API independently (i.e., other than as part of a software development kit) registered with the Copyright Office was registered in 2007.  I suspect we may see more applications for registration of APIs.  Good to know the Copyright Office has over 20 years of experience in this genre.

2 Responses to “How to Register your API with the Copyright Office”

  1. EugeniaDWLY
    December 17th, 2014 @ 12:28 am

    Thanks for the post, how can I make is so that I get an email every time there is a new update?

  2. Kurt E. Anderson
    December 17th, 2014 @ 5:34 pm

    To get notified every time there is a new post, click on “subscribe to Our Feed.” To join our mailing list, click on “Join Our Mailing List.” Mailings are sent periodically, though not every time there is a new post. Both the RSS Feed and the Mailing List links can be found on the right hand side above my picture.

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