Red Hat recently filed an amicus brief (a “friend of the court” brief) in support of Google’s petition for certiorari, asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn two rulings by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Oracle v. Google. These decisions, we believe, incorrectly extended copyright to programming interfaces and created unhelpful uncertainty around the doctrine of fair use. If left uncorrected, the lower court rulings could harm software compatibility and interoperability and have a chilling effect on the innovation represented by the open source community.
Open source software has been one of the great technological success stories of recent decades. The rapid pace of innovation resulting from the open source collaborative development model is facilitated by the ability to generally use interfaces, such as APIs for software libraries and web services, unrestricted by copyright protection. Unencumbered interfaces are vital to developing programs that interoperate with computer products, platforms and services. Interoperability is critical to innovation and a core feature of the internet and of internet-dependent devices and services.
Copyright does have a role to play in promoting free software -- Red Hat distributes the software it develops under open source licenses and relies on copyright protection to promote freedom under those licenses. But, the Court of Appeals decisions in the Oracle v. Google case call into question a bedrock understanding of software developers - including the open source community - that copyright does not extend to the programming interfaces in question and developers are free to use those interfaces. This understanding has fostered innovation across interoperable systems and networks and has been fundamental to software development.
For these reasons, we decided that we had to act (again) to support the critical interests of open source development. Red Hat joins other companies and software developers who are hoping the Supreme Court will overturn the Court of Appeals decisions.