A herd of tech companies including IBM and Microsoft are showing support for Google in its copyright infringement case with Oracle, a Supreme Court (SCOTUS) case that could dictate how software is created from this point on.
While every company that lives in the House of Big Tech aren’t exactly BFFs, they all know that there could be trouble if the SCOTUS sides with Oracle.
What’s at stake
In its case, Oracle stated that Google infringed upon its software by implementing it into its own Android operating system. Defenders point out that Google only used a small portion of Oracle's Java SE, and doing this only allowed the Android system to work more seamlessly with the platform's apps.
At bottom in the case is the issue of whether copyright law bars the commonplace practice of software reimplementation, “[t]he process of writing new software to perform certain functions of a legacy product,” argued Abigail Phillips of Mozilla, the company behind the Firefox interface.
Phllips points out that Google’s repurposing of Oracle’s software was “for the sake of interoperability -- enabling Java apps to work with Android and Android apps to work with Java, and enabling Java developers to build apps for both platforms without needing to learn the new conventions and structure of an entirely new platform.”
“We believe that a healthy internet depends on the Supreme Court reversing the Federal Circuit and reaffirming the current state of play for software development, in which copyright does not stand in the way of software developers reusing (single sign-on) for API* packages in socially, technologically, and economically beneficial ways,” Phillips concluded.
*API stands for Application Programming Interface -- a software intermediary tool that allows two applications to “talk” to each other. One example is the Apple (iOS) API that's used to detect touchscreen interchanges.
One winner, lots of losers
What is it they say about no good deed goes unpunished?
Google has already reigned victorious twice at the U.S. District Court level for this case. However, a federal appeals court overturned the verdict, giving Oracle the judgment -- a decision that was widely viewed as “disastrous.”
Now, 175 of Google’s competitors -- as well as nonprofits and individuals -- have come forward with 15 signed friend-of-the-court briefs in support of the tech giant’s argument. That support group includes Shopify, Etsy, Reddit, Wikimedia, and Medium.
Not to say Oracle speaks with a forked tongue, but when Google first released its Android system that included that tiny bit of Oracle software, the creators of Java (then owned by Sun Microsystems) celebrated its release, saying that it had “strapped another set of rockets to the [Java] community's momentum."
“If the [Supreme] Court upholds Oracle’s win, it will be much harder for companies to make software products that work with other programs,” Mark Lemley, director of the Stanford University law school’s Law, Science, and Technology program, told Quartz.
He went on to say that, technically, Google actually didn’t copy the APIs themselves; it wrote its own code to implement the existing functions. But Google had to use the standard Java structure for those interfaces or Java wouldn’t run on Android.