Why Google’s victory over Oracle at the Supreme Court is a landmark for the future of software

Larry Ellison

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On Monday, the US Supreme Court overturned a lower court, ending a decade-long legal battle by handing Google a landmark victory in its copyright fight with Oracle — and much of Silicon Valley breathed a sigh of relief. 

“Thank you to the Supreme Court for saving all modern computing from an onslaught of copyright trolls,” former Facebook security chief and current Stanford professor Alex Stamos said on Twitter.

Indeed, judging by the reactions, there’s a prevailing sense that Google’s win means the tech industry has dodged a bullet. Over the years that this case has dragged out, experts and insiders have held that a win for Oracle would have completely shaken up the tech industry, and not for the better.

“A ruling in Oracle’s favor would have opened the door for copyright trolls much like we’ve seen happen in the realm of software patents,” David Mooter, a senior analyst at Forrester, told Insider. “That would have given more power to big tech companies to sue their competition out of business.”

As always, the devil is in the details, but the basics of the case: In 2010, Oracle bought a now-defunct company called Sun Microsystems, including the rights to Java, a popular platform for app development. Later that same year, Oracle sued Google, alleging that it stole key pieces of Java to build the Android operating system. Specifically, a set of application programming interfaces, or APIs, that vastly simplify the process of building Java apps for Android. APIs were — and remain — the stock-standard way for apps and software to “talk” to one another.

Google contended that the APIs in question were not subject to copyright, and won the support of peers including Microsoft and IBM in its defense. Oracle, meanwhile, had the backing of Sun cofounder Scott McNealy, media groups including the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), and even the Trump administration in charging that Google using those APIs for Android was a form of theft. 

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The courts ultimately sidestepped whether APIs are subject to copyright, but the Supreme Court’s decision firmly establishes that whatever Google did, it ultimately constituted fair use.

Experts say that’s good news, legally speaking, not only for any of the very many Java users out there, but also for any company that uses another company’s APIs in building its software — which is essentially all of them.

“For decades at this point, the entirety of software has behaved as if either APIs were not copyrightable or as if fair use applied. This decision merely sustains that status quo,” Redmonk analyst Stephen O’Grady told Insider. “A decision in Oracle’s favor, however, would have been potentially disastrous, as literally every API would have to be newly reevaluated for legal risk.”

Indeed, experts say that an Oracle win could have opened the door for any API platform holder to turn around and litigate against users. Many companies — Oracle included — do exactly what Google did with those Java APIs. If using or “reimplementing” APIs like this …read more

Source:: Business Insider – Tech

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