Categories: Amicus Briefs copyright

Mozilla Joins Amicus Brief Supporting Software Interoperability

In modern technology, interoperability between programs is crucial to the usability of applications, user choice, and healthy competition. Today Mozilla has joined an amicus brief at the Ninth Circuit, to ensure that copyright law does not undermine the ability of developers to build interoperable software.

This amicus brief comes in the latest appeal in a multi-year courtroom saga between Oracle and Rimini Street. The sprawling litigation has lasted more than a decade and has already been up to the Supreme Court on a procedural question about court costs. Our amicus brief addresses a single issue: should the fact that a software program is built to be interoperable with another program be treated, on its own, as establishing copyright infringement?

We believe that most software developers would answer this question with: “Of course not!” But the district court found otherwise. The lower court concluded that even if Rimini’s software does not include any Oracle code, Rimini’s programs could be infringing derivative works simply “because they do not work with any other programs.” This is a mistake.

The classic example of a derivative work is something like a sequel to a book or movie. For example, The Empire Strikes Back is a derivative work of the original Star Wars movie. Our amicus brief explains that it makes no sense to apply this concept to software that is built to interoperate with another program. Not only that, interoperability of software promotes competition and user choice. It should be celebrated, not punished.

This case raises similar themes to another high profile software copyright case, Google v. Oracle, which considered whether it was copyright infringement to re-implement an API. Mozilla submitted an amicus brief there also, where we argued that copyright law should support interoperability. Fortunately, the Supreme Court reached the right conclusion and ruled that re-implementing an API was fair use. That ruling and other important fair use decisions would be undermined if a copyright plaintiff could use interoperability as evidence that software is an infringing derivative work.

In today’s brief Mozilla joins a broad coalition of advocates for openness and competition, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Creative Commons, Public Knowledge, iFixit, and the Digital Right to Repair Coalition. We hope the Ninth Circuit will fix the lower court’s mistake and hold that interoperability is not evidence of infringement.