As the legal showdown the tech world’s been waiting for finally hits the Supreme Court, people are choosing sides and Oracle doesn’t seem to have any friends. For about a decade, Google and Oracle have battled it out in the court system over whether Google infringed on Java copyright when creating Android. This case will have serious ramifications on the openness of APIs, which has rallied everyone from Microsoft and IBM to Shopify and Reddit to show their support for Google.
Previously on Oracle v. Google — If you haven’t kept up over the past decade, it took a series of cases to get here. In the mid-aughts, Google used some of Sun Microsystems’ Java declaring code to create Android, but worked around licensing by building its own base (a little clean room implementation). When Oracle acquired Sun, it sued Google for copyright and patent infringement.
The initial case went to Google with the judge ruling in 2012 that the code used wasn’t copyrightable and also scrubbing the patent argument. An appeals court pushed for a new, copyright-only trial to specifically tackle whether Google was protected under fair use. The jury ruled in Google’s favor again and Oracle appealed again. The decision was reversed and sent back down to figure out damages. In 2018, Google petitioned the Supreme Court (so it’s now Google v. Oracle) to figure out once and for all:
(1) Whether copyright protection extends to a software interface; and (2) whether, as the jury found, the petitioner’s use of a software interface in the context of creating a new computer program constitutes fair use.
Banding together — More than two dozen amicus briefs were filed on Monday from Microsoft, IBM, Mozilla, Shopify, Etsy, Reddit, groups of professors and developers, and several other smaller companies. All except two, which were neutral, were in support of Google, some urging for reversal of the appeals court’s decisions.
Modern software infrastructure relies heavily on open API, especially for smaller companies and innovation anywhere. Giants like Google and Microsoft could end up creating their own walled gardens of code, but competition from smaller players would suffer for it. The case is set to be heard early this year.