by Dennis Crouch
Google, LLC v. Oracle America (Supreme Court 2019)
This new petition from Google asks important questions about the role of copyright in protecting software. Questions presented:
- Whether copyright protection extends to a software interface.
- Whether, as the jury found, petitioner’s use of a software interface in the context of creating a new computer program constitutes fair use.
Rather than licensing Java, Google rewrote the programming language for Android App development in a way that mimics Java. No problem there so long as done without copying. However, rather than renaming all the function calls, Google decided to copy the names of all the function calls. I previously explained:
As an example, Google used the Java method header “Math.max(a,b).” . . . In Android’s API, Google copied a set of 37 different Java “packages” (such as Math) that each contain many classes and method calls (such as “max()”). Overall, Google copied the header structure for more than six-thousand methods.
Google’s reason for copying the naming structure was a form of free-riding. There were already many thousand Java programmers and Google was looking for a way to get them to develop Apps for Android. In its shortest form, Google explains the case as follows:
As is relevant here, software interfaces are lines of computer code that allow developers to operate prewritten libraries of code used to perform particular tasks. Since the earliest days of software development, developers have used interfaces to access essential tools for building new computer programs. Contravening that longstanding practice, the Federal Circuit in this case held both that a software interface is copyrightable and that petitioner’s use of a software interface in a new computer program cannot constitute fair use as a matter of law.
Petition at I.
Read the petition: Google_v_Oracle_Petition-for-Certiorari_01-24-2019; Read the Wikipedia Page.
After reading the Federal Circuit decision, I wrote that the case is “likely heading to the Supreme Court.” Although I believe that the case has a very good shot – one difficulty is that it involves a decision by the Federal Circuit applying Ninth Circuit law — it effectively holds no weight and can be simply rejected by the next Ninth Circuit panel addressing the same issues.