Most people in tech have heard of the monolithic court case between Google and Oracle in which Oracle disputed that Google's Android Operating System had infringed on Oracle's intellectual property because the APIs used in the Android Operating System contained paths through Java APIs. The court case went all the way to the United States Supreme Court who refused to hear the case.
A second trial was then filed by Oracle and ended up siding with Google which paved the way for APIs to be treated as fair use.
So what is "fair use" and why is it important in application development? First, fair use is any copying of copyrighted material done for a limited and "transformative" purpose, such as to comment upon, criticize, or parody a copyrighted work. According to the United States Copyright Office, "transformative" uses are those that add something new, with a further purpose or different character, and do not substitute for the original use of the work.
In this case, Google Lawyers were able to successfully argue that their use fell into this category and were not liable for any damages to Oracle.
The case eases at least some of the anxiety that Developers and business that use APIs felt while this case played out in the public spotlight. However, Oracle has vowed to appeal so we may not be out of the woods just yet.
In the short term, this means that startups, Developers, and other small businesses are free to use APIs in a way that can help grow their platforms and customers. It also means that we will likely see more APIs hit the market as they continue to see a rise in use among, not just small businesses, but the enterprise as well.
If you wanted to read more about the case and some of the press around the ruling, we've added some links at the bottom.
Wikipedia Article About The Case
TechCrunch: Copyright Captures APIs: A New Caution For Developers
Smart Bear: API Copyright and Why You Should Care
Mashable: Google wins against Oracle but the fight over fair use and APIs drags on