- More than two dozen groups, including tech giants Microsoft, IBM, and IBM’s Red Hat subsidiary, have weighed in behind Google in its Supreme Court battle with Oracle.
- In the 10-year legal dispute, Oracle accused Google of stealing key code from Java to develop its Android operating system.
- Google rejects the charge, arguing that Oracle cannot copyright the code, known as APIs, or application programming interfaces, which allows programs to talk to each other.
- IBM, Microsoft and other parties, including the Mozilla Foundation, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and prominent figures in tech, have filed briefs in support of Google. Here’s what they said.
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Oracle and Google are about to face off before the US Supreme Court in what’s expected to be one of the biggest tech legal showdowns in history.
And some of tech’s biggest names, including IBM, Microsoft and Red Hat, are rooting for Google.
In a legal brawl that has dragged on for 10 years, Oracle is accusing Google of copyright infringement and stealing a key component of its Java technology to build the Android operating system.
“Google makes its money free-riding on the intellectual property and content of others,” Oracle spokeswoman Deborah Hellinger told Business Insider in an email. “Google stole Java and killed interoperability to create its proprietary Android operating system.”
Google rejects the charge, saying Oracle cannot copyright the code, known as APIs, or application programming interfaces — which allows programs to talk to each other.
More than two dozen parties — including tech giants, software industry veterans and tech advocacy groups — agree with Google. They filed briefs with the Supreme Court supporting Google’s position.
Here’s what some of Google’s supporters said as they threw in their support against Oracle in this case:
IBM is one of the biggest enterprise tech corporations in the world, and a rival of both Oracle and Google.
“Computer interfaces are not copyrightable. That simple, yet powerful principle has been a cornerstone of technological and economic growth for over sixty years.1 When published (as has been common industry practice for over three decades) or lawfully reverse engineered,2 they have spurred innovation through competition, increased productivity and economic efficiency, and connected the world in a way that has benefited commercial enterprises and consumers alike. Not once, until this case, has a Court of Appeals held that software interfaces are protected by copyright separate and apart from the code embodying the implementation of those interfaces. This is not because this principle is fringe; it is because it has always been accepted—based on legal precedent dating back 140 years.”
Microsoft is one the biggest tech companies in the world, and a major competitor to Oracle and Google in the enterprise market.
“The nature of innovation in the computer industry has changed dramatically over recent decades. Gone are the days when computing products operate in isolation. It is less common that a single company develops entirely proprietary products. Rather, more software products are developed through collaboration among many different parties. And consumers now demand that products be able to interoperate across myriad software platforms and hardware devices. Such collaborative development and interoperability are facilitated by an industry paradigm that expects, and accepts, that much existing functional software code may be reused by follow-on developers.”
Red Hat is a leading open source enterprise software company which was acquired by IBM last year for $34 billion.
“The use of computer program interfaces, including for compatibility and interoperability, without the need to ask permission and secure a copyright license, is both ubiquitous and essential to operation of information technologies and the communication infrastructure worldwide. … For decades the legal rules establishing the non-copyrightability of programming interfaces have been a foundation of innovation and competition in this country and throughout the world. The erroneous decisions below have thrown industry expectations and the legal rules into disarray.”
The Electronic Frontier Foundation is a San Francisco-based digital rights organization focused on defending civil liberties in the digital world.
“Granting copyright protection to a book such as Harry Potter doesn’t necessarily lock the reader into anything; the reader can read or write a second book about wizards and magic without having to use any installed base of knowledge acquired from the first book. By contrast, where users have invested in learning a particular way of doing something functional and useful, a finding of copyright liability allows the copyright owner to control that acquired knowledge and future uses of the functionality in question. That is not the purpose of copyright.”
The Mozilla Corporation is a Silicon Valley-based nonprofit which supports and leads the open source Firefox project.
“For decades, software engineers have relied heavily on reimplementation, including reuse of functional protocols such as the software interfaces in this case, to create competing alternatives to incumbent industry players and develop new markets without fear of copyright infringement. … APIs facilitate countless functions and innovations in the software world. From helping the software running your phone to maintaining medical equipment to supporting every electronic connection your computer makes to another device, it would be impossible to list them all.”
The Developers Alliance, which has offices in Washington DC and Brussels, is a non-profit corporation and advocacy group for software developers. The alliance includes tech industry leaders and an international network for more than 75,000 developers.
“The current case has implications that go far beyond the two litigants involved. In 2017 there were an estimated three million software developers in the United States, and their collective work added an estimated $565 billion to the country’s gross domestic product. As a result of the current litigation, developers are now confused about whether and where established practices constitute copyright infringement. Specifically, developers now question their ability to freely create interoperable software across projects and platforms, as has been common practice. The inevitable result of this uncertainty will be reduced innovation, higher industry costs, and increased litigation.”
The R Street Institute is a prominent Washingont DC-based non-profit public-policy research organization which advocates for free markets “as well as limited yet effective government.”
“The technology industry has a longstanding expectation that implementation of interfaces does not require a copyright license. Review of the analogous patent context demonstrates that upsetting that expectation could cause widespread disruption for all sorts of standards dependent technologies and thus widespread disruption for the economy at large.”
Computer scientists filed in support of Google, including academics from such universities as MIT and Carnegie Mellon, and prominent figures such as Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios and computing pioneers Vint Cerf and Alan Kay.
“Google’s reimplementation of an existing interface was not unusual. Reimplementing software interfaces is a long-standing, ubiquitous practice that has been essential to realizing fundamental advances in computing. It unleashed the personal computer revolution, created popular operating systems and programming languages, and established the foundation upon which the Internet and cloud computing depend. It also increases consumer choice, lowers prices, and fosters compatibility between programs. Free reimplementation of software interfaces was, and continues to be, essential for innovation and competition in software.”
One brief was filed by a group of startup execs and advisors that includes Esther Dyson, a leading angel investor and philanthropist, and Tim O’Reilly, CEO and founder of O’Reilly Media.
“Startups are under threat. The Federal Circuit’s multiple rulings in this decade-long battle between Google and Oracle have changed the rules of copyright. By holding that APIs—software interfaces allowing developers to access prewritten lines of code—are copyrightable, and use of them will rarely, if ever, constitute fair use, the lower court struck a blow against the interoperability copyright meant to protect—a blow that falls particularly heavily on startup companies. … This regime change will allow copyright-wielding incumbents to hold interoperability under lock and key— permitting them to decide who gets to connect to their products, and how much would-be connectors must pay.”
What Oracle Says
Oracle rejected the arguments of Google and its supporters. Spokeswoman Deborah Hellinger told Business Insider in an email: “At bottom, Google’s brief — and those bartered briefs of its supporters — stand for the remarkable proposition that stealing is easier than creating and then advance the hypocritical and ironic argument stealing is required for interoperability. We believe the Supreme Court will see through all of Google’s self interested arguments and stand with content owners, creators, and innovators.”