SCOTUS Defends APIs While Congress And States Threaten Software Marketplaces

The Developers Alliance April 2021 US Policy Update.


The Supreme Court has ruled 6-2 in favor of Google in the long-awaited Google v. Oracle case deciding whether or not APIs were considered copyrightable (Justice Barrett did not take part in the case as she was confirmed following the beginning of the trial). The highest court held that “Google’s copying of the Java SE API, which included only those lines of code that were needed to allow programmers to put their accrued talents to work in a new and transformative program, was a fair use of that material as a matter of law.” This ruling is significant because it ensures the legality of open source software — an issue critical to developer success and progress in the tech sector. The Developers Alliance filed an amicus brief with the courts in favor of Google and is pleased with both the ruling itself and the court for their grasp of often complex technical concepts.

The App Store Showdown Continues

More and more states are seeking to pass laws that mandate app stores be prevented from banning apps from conducting alternative in-app payment methods. Developers Alliance has weighed in on the bill in multiple states including Rhode Island, Arizona, North Carolina, and Louisiana. 

At the federal level, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on April 21st examining this same issue. Entitled “Antitrust Applied: Examining Competition in App Stores,” the hearing featured testimony from app store architects, Google and Apple, as well as companies such as Match, Spotify, and Tile. The Developers Alliance submitted comments for the record on this hearing. Our research and conversations with our member developers have indicated to us that they greatly benefit from the tools and services that the app stores provide. They are under no impression that they should be receiving these things for free. Aside from the security and trust app stores bring, we believe that it is necessary for a functional, thriving developer ecosystem to have the larger tech companies who can afford higher app store fees to pay them so that smaller developer-led businesses can benefit from the services the stores provide all members. 


Tech infrastructure may be getting an overhaul with a new bill being debated in Congress. The Endless Frontier Act, a $100 billion bill that would be allocated over the course of 5 years, seeks to expand research into various areas of science and technology in an effort to keep America competitive with adversaries such as China who are investing significant sums into their tech research and development. The proposed bill covers artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and robotics. Further, the legislation seeks to establish ten regional tech hubs throughout the United States to execute the research and development associated with the funding. The bill is part of a larger push for a major infrastructure boost by the Biden administration. 

Additional related bills seek to address the ongoing semiconductor shortage by establishing US manufacturing so that there is not a heavy reliance on foreign partners. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree that investment in infrastructure is necessary and that the United States must invest heavily in the technology sector over the next few years in order for us to maintain a competitive edge internationally. The proposed bill is largely seen as bipartisan, with both parties equally concerned over US competitiveness, however Republicans are largely concerned about the hefty price tag associated with a larger infrastructure package, as it’s total is currently being estimated at $2.3 trillion. Developers Alliance believes that investment in technology infrastructure is of critical importance for developers and the success of the tech industry for generations to come and thus supports this bill. 

Design Matters

Snapchat developers could be getting themselves into hot water for an app design feature as an appeals court rules that parent company Snap could be liable following the death of two teenage boys. The tech company was sued for negligent design on behalf of the deceased’s parents alleging that “Snap, Inc. encouraged their sons to drive at dangerous speeds and caused the boys’ deaths through its negligent design of its smartphone application.” The lawsuit was specifically with regard to the feature that provided rewards to users when utilising their speed feature, with plaintiffs alleging that the deaths were a “predictable consequence(s) of designing Snapchat in such a way that it allegedly encouraged dangerous behavior.” While lower courts initially ruled that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act does not apply, on Appeal, the court reversed, indicating that Section 230 does not allow for apps to avoid liability for the products that they are responsible for designing. Further,  “internet companies remain on the hook when they create or develop their own internet content” that leads to what otherwise would fall under product liability claims. This case is relevant due to the potential implications it would have on platforms being held responsible for the algorithms they have created that have led to real world harm.

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By Sarah Richard

Developers Alliance Policy Counsel & Head of US Policy

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