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Google Seeks Supreme Court to Review Oracle Copyright Dispute

January 28, 2019

Google’s has petitioned the Supreme Court for writ of certiorari, or a request a review of two previous Federal Circuit rulings against it in a copyright row with Oracle.

Kent Walker, Google SVP of Global Affairs & Chief Legal Officer said, "Today we asked the Supreme Court of the United States to review our long-running copyright dispute with Oracle over the use of software interfaces. The outcome will have a far-reaching impact on innovation across the computer industry.

Standardized software interfaces have driven innovation in software development. They let computer programs interact with each other and let developers easily build technologies for different platforms. Unless the Supreme Court steps in here, the industry will be hamstrung by court decisions finding that the use of software interfaces in creating new programs is not allowed under copyright law.

With smartphone apps now common, we sometimes forget how hard it once was for developers to build apps across a wide range of different platforms. Our 2008 release of the open-source Android platform changed the game. It helped developers overcome the challenges of smaller processors, limited memory, and short battery life, while providing innovative features and functionality for smartphone development. The result was a win for everyone: Developers could build new apps, manufacturers could build great new devices, and the resulting competition gave consumers both lower prices and an extraordinary range of choice.

We built Android following the computer industry’s long-accepted practice of re-using software interfaces, which provide sets of commands that make it easy to implement common functionality—in the same way that computer keyboard short-cuts like pressing “control” and “p” make it easy to print. Android created a transformative new platform, while letting millions of Java programmers use their existing skills to create new applications. And the creators of Java backed the release of Android, saying that it had “strapped another set of rockets to the [Java] community’s momentum.”

But after it acquired Java in 2010, Oracle sued us for using these software interfaces, trying to profit by changing the rules of software development after the fact. Oracle’s lawsuit claims the right to control software interfaces—the building blocks of software development—and as a result, the ability to lock in a community of developers who have invested in learning the free and open Java language.

A court initially ruled that the software interfaces in this case are not copyrightable, but that decision was overruled. A unanimous jury then held that our use of the interfaces was a legal fair use, but that decision was likewise overruled. Unless the Supreme Court corrects these twin reversals, this case will end developers’ traditional ability to freely use existing software interfaces to build new generations of computer programs for consumers. Just like we all learn to use computer keyboard shortcuts, developers have learned to use the many standard interfaces associated with different programming languages. Letting these reversals stand would effectively lock developers into the platform of a single copyright holder—akin to saying that keyboard shortcuts can work with only one type of computer.

The U.S. Constitution authorized copyrights to “promote the progress of science and useful arts,” not to impede creativity or promote lock-in of software platforms. Leading voices from business, technology, academia, and the nonprofit sector agree and have spoken out about the potentially devastating impacts of this case.

We support software developers’ ability to develop the applications we all have come to use every day, and we hope that the Supreme Court will give this case the serious and careful consideration it deserves."  

Oracle Executive Vice President and General Counsel Dorian Daley commented that,  "Google's petition for certiorari presents a rehash of arguments that have already been thoughtfully and thoroughly discredited. The fabricated concern about innovation hides Google's true concern: that it be allowed the unfettered ability to copy the original and valuable work of others as a matter of its own convenience and for substantial financial gain. This is not, and has never been, a valid justification for copying. Further, the purported 'chill on innovation' is a well known myth. Since the initial decision of the Federal Circuit (and agreement of the Solicitor General's Office) that the Oracle Java code copied by Google was copyright protected, the pace of innovation has only accelerated, spurring job creation and opportunity. Indeed, the sky is not falling on the software industry or technology industry in general. Oracle will continue its efforts to protect and grow its own innovations, as well as those of other innovators, by ensuring that the well established principles of copyright law are not subverted by anyone trying to cut corners. In major victories for software innovation, the Court of Appeals has twice sided with Oracle against Google. The Court of Appeals was correct each time. The Supreme Court should once again deny Google's request to take the case."

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