US Supreme Court will not review software copyright decision in Oracle vs Google drama
The API battle between Oracle and Google might be partially over, but it’s not the outcome that the software industry wants. The US Supreme Court has officially opted not to review a 2014 ruling on Google infringing Oracle’s copyright via the Android platform.
Another week, another update in the ongoing copyright saga between Oracle and Google – only this time, the result could potentially be a disaster for the software industry as we know it. On Monday 29 June, the US Supreme Court elected not to review the 2014 decision regarding the “copyrightability” of Java APIs.
SCOTUS denies review 14-410 in Google v. Oracle regarding copyright protection for computer software.
— SCOTUSblog (@SCOTUSblog) June 29, 2015
This development comes after the office of the President of the United States backed up Oracle in its win over Google’s use of Java APIs in Android. With Android modelling its platform on Java, Oracle claimed copyright infringement, however Google’s stance centres on APIs as un-copyrightable and excused from the Copyright Act due to being a “process” or “method of operation”, which are functional characteristics of the system.
The big takeaway from this kind of ruling is all about the future of software creation and the potential incompatibility between operating system standards. The amicus curiae from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) outlines this very issue, noting the friction that copyrightable APIs can cause in future software development.
A second brief has also been submitted on behalf of the group Public Knowledge, which comes to the same conclusions as the EFF and believes the court’s decision misapprehends the role of functionality in copyright:
The Federal Circuit found the Java API copyrightable because “alternate expressions are available” for the API command names, so their choices for command names and inputs were creative and thus fully protected from copying. But numerous cases have held elements of a work unprotectable by copyright, even though the authors made choices among alternatives in constructing the work.
The group goes on to further state that “potentially patentable processes are not themselves copyrightable expression arguments”. Whether or not a particular product should be copyrightable or patentable is asking the wrong question, according to the brief; different aspects of any given product may receive different types of protection.
With Google’s appeal officially rejected, the IT world will still need to keep up with the lower courts which will determine whether Google’s use of the code constitutes as “fair use”. This permits certain uses of copyrighted work when the copyright enforced would “stifle the very creativity which [copyright] law is designed to foster”, as noted by the Copyright Law.