US sides with Oracle in Java copyright dispute with Google

The dispute between Google and Oracle revolves around whether Java APIs can be copyrighted

Generic snap for court issues

Generic snap for court issues

The administration of President Barack Obama sided with Oracle in a dispute with Google on whether APIs, the specifications that let programs communicate with each other, are copyrightable.

Nothing about the API (application programming interface) code at issue in the case materially distinguishes it from other computer code, which is copyrightable, wrote Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli in a filing in the U.S. Supreme Court.

The court had earlier asked for the government's views in this controversial case, which has drawn the attention of scientists, digital rights group and the tech industry for its implications on current practices in developing software.

Although Google has raised important concerns about the effects that enforcing Oracle's copyright could have on software development, those concerns are better addressed through a defense on grounds of fair use of copyrighted material, Verrilli wrote.

77 scientists, including Vinton "Vint" Cerf, Internet pioneer and Google's chief Internet evangelist, and Ken Thompson, co-designer of the Unix operating system, submitted to the court last year that the free and open use of the APIs has been both routine and essential in the computer industry since its beginning, and depended on the "sensible assumption" that APIs and other interfaces were not copyrightable.

Oracle accused Google of infringing its copyrights and patents related to Java in its Android operating system. Google was charged with copying the structure and organization of the Java API, in part to make it easier for developers, familiar with Java, to write programs for the mobile operating system.

The Internet giant, however, holds that the API code is not entitled to copyright protection because it constitutes a "method of operation" or "system" under Section 102(b) of the Copyright Act.

Judge William Alsup of the District Court for the Northern District of California ruled in 2012 that the APIs were not copyrightable, but this decision was overturned in May last year by the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which ruled that the Java API packages can be copyrighted. Google then asked the Supreme Court to review the Federal Circuit decision.

The uncopyrightable "method of operation" or "system" or "process" under Section 102(b) is the underlying computer function triggered by the written code, according to Verrilli. "The code itself, however, is eligible for copyright protection," he wrote.

The government in its filing asked the Supreme Court not to review the case and recommended its remand over Google's fair-use defense to the lower court.

"While we're disappointed, we look forward to supporting the clear language of the law and defending the concepts of interoperability that have traditionally contributed to innovation in the software industry," Google said in a statement Tuesday, in response to the government filing.

The Computer & Communications Industry Association said in a statement that the Justice Department got it wrong. Imposing legal constraints on the interoperation between programming languages can lead to serious competitive harm, it added.

Oracle did not immediately comment.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags copyrightOracleGooglelegalsoftwareintellectual property

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

John Ribeiro

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Father’s Day Gift Guide

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Laura Johnston

MSI GS65 Stealth Thin

If you can afford the price tag, it is well worth the money. It out performs any other laptop I have tried for gaming, and the transportable design and incredible display also make it ideal for work.

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?