Software API Copyright | Obviously-O

This week, the Federal Circuit hears oral arguments in a major software copyright case, SAS Institute, Inc. v World Programming Ltd.., File No. 21-1542. the SAS is an important follow-up to the Supreme Court’s 2021 decision in Google versus Oracle, 141 S.Ct. 1183 (2021). In googlethe Supreme Court sided with the accused infringer on fair dealing grounds, but did not decide the broader issue of whether Oracle’s API naming convention was copyrighted .

WPL has created a clone version of SAS that allows users to use SAS-style inputs and receive SAS-style outputs. SAS asserts that these input and output formats are copyrighted. However, the District Court (EDTex. Judge Gilstrap) sided with the accused infringer – finding that WPL presented compelling evidence that these materials were not copyrightable. On appeal, SAS raises four arguments:

  1. Copyright: The SAS Materials should be considered copyrighted under the law due to (1) the plethora of creative choices; and (2) even if individual elements of formatting and design are not copyrightable, the overall selection and arrangement are copyrightable.
  2. Screening analysis procedure: the onus is on the defendant to show which aspects of a copyrighted work are not copyrightable; the district court reversed the situation by requiring the plaintiff to show what is protectable.
  3. Screening Analysis Proceeding: The District Court appears to have held a bench trial on this issue, but called it a “Copyright Hearing.” Normally this is a problem for a jury (although the copyright holder does not raise a 7th Amendment challenge).
  4. Screening Analysis Proceeding: The District Court improperly excluded SAS facts and expert witnesses.

Lots of amicus briefs from both sides:

Support for SAS: Mathworks and Oracle; Ralph Oman, Old Copyright Registry; pro-copyright professors; Copyright Alliance; Group of computer scientists; and creators’ rights groups.

WPL Support: CCIA; Researchers in intellectual property law; another group of computer scientists; Github; and DEL.

Arguments set for this Thursday (January 13).