The White House has told the Supreme Court that APIs can be copyrighted (arstechnica.com). This is generally being perceived as terrible news, the design of an API is typically very standard affair, meaning there could be a lot of court cases if this where to become law.

I certainly don’t disagree with the general feelings of the community, having recently designed and developed my own cloud services on Microsoft Azure for my Social Applications Development module at university; APIs are undoubtedly imperative to modern computing. Good API design promotes a simple, human readable format - there’s no point making your URIs illogical or impossible to understand. Enabling commonly used syntax to be copyrighted could force developers to write less than optimal code to skirt the potential of copyright infringement.

Copyright lock-in is easily foreseeable. Imagine you’re using a closed source third party API, the provider might decide to increase their fees, but you’re already using their system and you can’t go it alone and create your own API using the same of even similar design as it’s copyrighted. You’re screwed. You would have to recreate your product from the ground up to either use another closed source API (although hopefully you’d have learnt your lesson) or create your own solution that is entirely different to all other copyrighted examples - a situation that could easily kill a small company with only one product shipping.

Are there any positives?

One immediately comes to mind: this could have a huge positive effect on the Open Source world. If a commonly used API design could be demonstrated to have originated from an Open Source project then copyrighting it would be out of the question. This could mean that Open Source projects would become all the more intriguing to organisations that would have typically chosen a commercial solution.

A closed source product may provide support and accountability but the benefits of using a system that doesn’t have the potential of crippling your software further down the road could prove tantalising, more so than at the moment anyway.