Newsline September 2016

Digital systems interactions have long been an area of work for NISO. Interoperability among systems in our network requires a certain degree of agreement concerning communication protocols, methods, and forms; standards facilitate that functionality. From NISO's oldest standard, Z39.2, Information Interchange Format, to our newer publications, such as Z39.93, The SUSHI Protocol and Knowledge Base And Related Tools (KBART), interoperability is at the core of NISO's work. We are pleased to extend this activity even further.

Earlier this month, NISO members approved a new work project to standardize API calls from a variety of systems involved in information distribution. This project seeks to improve systems interaction and functionality by describing an API framework that will address areas of login/authentication; patron account information; and availability, check-out, statuses, and usage for e-books, streaming media, and other digital content. Starting from a set of specifications initially drafted and implemented by the Queens Library staff and its partners, the working group will seek input from a diverse group of publishers, libraries, and e-content vendors, using the material generated during the initial stage of this project to create a list of core functionalities and expected implementation issues. The working group will then modify and enhance the specifications and begin tweaking the schemas needed within the APIs. This standard, once released, will lead to quicker development times and more seamless integration by and between software parties and content providers, and facilitate better service and digital content delivery to library end users.

While critically important for data exchange, APIs have been at the center of some complicated business and legal challenges in recent years. Earlier this year, a jury in San Francisco issued a judgment in a six-year-long case involving Oracle and Google that examined whether Google infringed on Oracle's software copyright on certain Java APIs. While the jury decided in favor of Google and judged that Google's Android Operating System did not infringe on Oracle's copyright, it did so by claiming a fair-use exemption rather than deciding that APIs were not copyrightable. Last year, the judge in the case had ruled that APIs could be subject to copyright protections, just as software code could be copyrighted. This decision could create barriers to trade and electronic interoperability, because, as was argued by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, while the data calls and formats might be openly available, copyright holders could limit their reuse to only those partners with whom the copyright holder chooses to do business.

Agreeing to, and conforming with, agreed-upon standards for APIs could circumvent the messy and expensive legal challenges that might follow from this ruling, if it is upheld in higher courts upon any appeal. This standardization process brings critical systems functionality into the community sphere and allows suppliers and systems developers equal footing in the exchange of their data and the interoperability of their systems, with fewer barriers to open exchange. NISO's royalty-free, reasonable, and non-discriminatory (FRAND) intellectual property policy ensures that the API standards we develop and publish will be accessible to all, without intellectual property restrictions. In this way, developers of both open source and proprietary systems can be assured of the availability, functionality, and stability of the specifications.

A public call for participants is currently out, and we expect work on the project to begin in the coming month. If you are interested in participating, see information about the group and how to engage in the effort. Thank you to all those who have expressed interest already and we look forward to working with you.