Friday, 25 January 2019 10:08

Google asks Supreme Court to reverse Oracle verdict

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Google asks Supreme Court to reverse Oracle verdict Pixabay

A fresh saga has begun in the long-running case between Google and Oracle, with the search giant asking the US Supreme Court on Thursday to reverse a verdict granted in Oracle's favour.

In a 343-page submission, the company urged the court to rule that its use of 37 Java APIs in its Android mobile operating system constituted "fair use" which is allowed under American copyright law.

Google described the ruling made by the US Federal Circuit Court of Appeals in August last year as a "devastating one-two punch at the software industry” that would prove a hurdle to innovation.

Oracle executive vice-president and general counsel Dorian Daley said in a statement: “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."

Daley said Oracle would 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.”

In a statement, Google's senior vice-president of Global Affairs and chief legal officer Kent Walker said: "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 US Constitution authorised 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."

In August 2018, the US Federal Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Google's bid to have the case reheard. This meant that the decision — that Google's use of the Java APIs was "not fair as a matter of law" — would stand, and the search giant would have to fork out US$8.8 to billion to Oracle or else try to take the case to the Supreme Court – as it did on Thursday.

The case has been going on since 2010 when Oracle sued Google shortly after it purchased Sun Microsystems and became the owner of Java, claiming that the search engine company had violated its copyright and patents.

That case ended in 2012 with Google being largely the victor. The presiding judge, Justice William Alsup, ruled that APIs could not be copyrighted.

But an appeal gave Oracle what it wanted: a ruling that APIs could be copyrighted. As a side note, this ruling has put developers at risk, as they could be sued for using APIs that they could use freely prior to the trial.

In a second trial that ended in May 2016, a jury found that Google's use of the Java APIs in Android was covered under fair use. As expected, Oracle was not happy with the verdict.

Oracle initiated an appeal in February 2017 having indicated after the May 2016 verdict that it would not take a backward step. In August 2016, Oracle tried to get the verdict set aside, but was this was refused by Justice Alsup. Later the same year, the database giant filed the necessary papers to prolong the battle.

Finally, on 28 March, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit came to the conclusion that Google's use of the Java APIs was "not fair as a matter of law".


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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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