Supreme Court Allows Auto Aftermarket to Access APIs

Jason R. Sakurai
by Jason R. Sakurai
supreme court allows auto aftermarket to access apis

The Supreme Court ruled on April 5th in the Google v. Oracle case, a copyright dispute over software. Their decision was that application program interfaces (API) are fair use in building compatible components.

A Federal Circuit Court originally decided Google v. Oracle. A software copyright had been violated. Google copied Oracle’s API code for programs to operate on its platform. The Auto Care Association filed a brief on Jan. 13, 2020. In the brief, it noted that if the decision stood, it would limit the ability to produce replacement parts for software-driven vehicles.

Auto parts manufacturers need to know that their products work. The Supreme Court’s interpretation doesn’t interfere with the right to repair your own vehicles. The Circuit opinion would have allowed OEMs to eliminate competition for parts and services. The brief urged the Supreme Court not to permit copyright protection in this case. The API code that specifies the data and functions necessary to operate the vehicle must be made available to parts and service suppliers.

“It is clear from the decision that the Court understood the implications of permitting companies to copyright APIs. It would prevent development of replacement parts and to perform vehicle repairs,” said Aaron Lowe, SVP of regulatory and government affairs, Auto Care Association. “We appreciate the Court’s understanding of the impact on competition.”

We dodged a bullet as consumers with this decision. For quite a while, it was in doubt whether manufacturers could withhold information needed to create parts and perform repairs. Thankfully, the Supreme Court reached a decision that protects our rights to repair our vehicles, along with other products with APIs. From your desktop computer to the lawnmower, there’s no reason for manufacturers to withhold this information. Repairs outside of their own channels will continue without restriction. But what about the next time a manufacturer wants to restrict our access?

[Images: Jeep, Auto Care Association]

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3 of 9 comments
  • Bunkie Bunkie on Apr 10, 2021

    And here’s why this matters: Oracle wanted to prevent third-party code from being able to make use of Google services without having to be rewritten to do so. In terms or copyright law, a copyright can not apply to idea, but only to a very specific *expression* of that idea. This decision firmly places APIs outside of copyright protection. Given that simply creating a new API is an expression of prior art, it cannot be patented.

  • Jeff S Jeff S on Apr 11, 2021

    Good explanation of API. My concern would be if a consumer has either no choice or limited choice of where they can get their vehicle repaired. Without a competitive repair market a manufacturer can charge whatever they like. John Deere is an example of a manufacturer that is doing this.

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