The courts just handed Oracle a surprising win in its years-long lawsuit against Google and Android. And Google, to say the least, is not pleased.
Google sent Business Insider this statement:
“We’re disappointed by this ruling, which sets a damaging precedent for computer science and software development, and are considering our options.”
It’s unclear how much money Google could owe Oracle as a result of this new ruling. Oracle had originally been seeking a shocking $US6 billion, but the courts didn’t allow that huge amount to stick.
The fee Google winds up paying could be as low as $US300,000, or even nothing. That’s because the courts still have to rule on Google’s final defence: that the copyrighted material it used for Android is ok to use under the Fair Use Doctrine.
To recap: Oracle accused Google of copying some of its Java computer code when it wrote Android. Android itself wasn’t the issue. Android is different than Java. But Google wanted developers that work with Java, a popular language for Web apps, to jump to Android. So it incorporated Java’s application programming interfaces (APIs) into Android. This allowed them to quickly convert their apps to Android and it meant that the millions of programmers trained on Java would be familiar with Android, too.
Oracle sued claiming that the APIs were copyrighted. But the judge ruled that APIs are not subject to copyright laws.
On Friday, an appellate court just overturned that loss, and said that APIs are subject to copyright.
An API exists to allow two programs to talk to each other. Normally, APIs are freely given away. It’s the tool that encourages developers to write apps for a tech company’s products.
By saying that APIs are copyrightable, the whole software industry has been put on alert. This ruling could be an epic mistake that leads to a lot of frivolous litigation, James Grimmelmann, a copyright scholar at the University of Maryland, told Vox’s Timothy Lee.
In 2013, when the case was still pending, two developers weighed in, railing against Oracle, Sacha Labourey, CEO of CloudBees, and Steven Harris, senior vice president for CloudBees and formerly a SVP of Java Server Development at Oracle. In an article on TechCrunch they wrote:
“Will our economy thrive and be more competitive because companies can easily switch from one service provider to the other by leveraging identical APIs? Or will our economy be throttled by allowing vendors to inhibit competition through API lock-in?”
Interestingly, this win was largely due to the lawyer Oracle hired, known for helping Apple win cases against Motorola, notes patent blogger, Florian Mueller:
“This reversal-in-part is a huge win for Oracle and its appellate counsel, a team of Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe lawyers led by Joshua Rosenkranz and Mark Davies. Mr. Rosenkranz has previously been dubbed the “Defibrillator” for reviving lawsuits on appeal after losses in district court. He did it again.”
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