I understood that the lawsuit implies that APIs are not copyrightable.

Hardware CPU ISAs (e.g. x86 and ARM) are an API (?), and could have different implementations.

However, there are precedents where CPU developer companies have sued / "cease and desist"ed re-implementors, such as ARM v. Amber.

So would the lawsuit mean that ISAs can also be re-implemented?

Of course, I expect the answer to be no and that it is just my lack of understanding of the case. How is the Java API different from an ISA?

This video claims that companies managed to re-implement the "retractable pen" hardware "API" to avoid patent infringement seen here on YouTube, how are ISAs different?

ReactOS is a project that comes to mind back to software land.

  • I think your understanding that "the lawsuit implies that APIs are not copyrightable" is incorrect. The (higher) appeals court found that API are eligible for copyright, and then, after that, the lower court (in a jury trial) found that Google's use of the Java API in Android happened to be permissible under Fair Use.
    – apsillers
    Jun 13, 2016 at 18:32
  • @apsillers Why is Java API ok for Fair Use but not ISAs? Jun 13, 2016 at 18:38
  • @apsillers thanks for clarifying, I understand better. Consider saying that in an answer. Law is a messy thing... I think this does deprive Oracle from income which is one of the factors. Jun 13, 2016 at 21:23

2 Answers 2


"I understood that the lawsuit implies that APIs are not copyrightable." Completely, absolutely, one hundred percent wrong. The result was that APIs are indeed copyrighted. The other result was that under certain circumstances, a "fair use" defence against a copyright infringement claim can be successful.

And a lawsuit never, ever applies to all possible circumstances. The result was that in one particular instance, in a decision that will likely be appealed, where the defendant had a lot of very expensive and presumably very good lawyers, a "fair use" defence was successful. Every case is different. There is no reason to assume that in a similar case a similar defence will work.

Assuming that a court decision about APIs would apply to processor ISAs is just ridiculous.


This case was considered "fair usage" by a jury, which always requires a case-by-case analysis.

So while we may guess that similar cases are likely to have similar outcomes, relying on it is very risky and you can't know the answer without going to court. @Dawn mentions that this does not form a precedent however.

Unlike the usual "innocent until proven guilty", fair usage is an Affirmative defense: it is up to the defendant to convince the jury that something was fair use.

The jury is then given some official fair usage criteria, and then decides if the case fits or not. These were the instructions for this case.

Juries don't explain why their decision is made, the only output is yes or no, so we don't know what is their reasoning for fair usage.

In this case, I'm not sure I agree with the jury, since this did reduce the value of the Java API for Oracle, as it will prevent them from making people pay for using it in certain ways.

So I still don't see how this case is different from CPU ISAs.

For more details see:

Attribution: apsillers mentioned some of this a comment.

  • That jury ruling does not form any precedent.
    – user3851
    Jun 14, 2016 at 13:34
  • @Dawn thanks for explaining. I obviously don't know the precise definition of precedent, what I meant is that similar cases in the future are likely to have similar results. Jun 14, 2016 at 13:40

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