By on April 9, 2021

CourtThe 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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9 Comments on “Supreme Court Allows Auto Aftermarket to Access APIs...”

  • avatar

    As a inspiring libertarian I have to side with the car manufacturers in this one. It’s their right to make their product the way they want and to set their own rules. It’s our right to be able to choose not to buy their products.

  • avatar

    A win for consumers for sure…no surprise at all that Thomas and Alito dissented…

  • avatar

    As a developer who creates APIs, I have to take issue with how this news is being presented.

    It is important to understand what an application programming interface is. What it is *not* is computer code. An API is a *specification*, not an implementation. What Google did was to build their own code that used the Java specification. The crux of the suit was that such specifications can be copyrighted.

    APIs exist to provide other developers with a way to interact with software services. For example, the National Weather Service provides a means for consumers of weather data to connect, make requests and receive data. If I want to get the current temperature for Biloxi, I make a request to a function. The name and format of that function are a fixed specification so that the service can understand my request and so that I can understand and interpret the data that is returned.

    What Google did was to create a parallel service that had the same function names, parameters and data structure definitions. It wrote its own code to implement that service.

  • avatar

    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.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    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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