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January 14, 2020

Red Hat, IBM Line Up Behind Google in Clash with Oracle over API Copyright

"Computer interfaces are not copyrightable. That simple, yet powerful principle has been a cornerstone of technological and economic growth for over sixty years."

By CBR Staff Writer

IBM and Red Hat have joined the legal affray between Google and Oracle, jointly filing a “friend of the court” brief that asks the U.S. Supreme Court to rule in favour of Google, with the two backing the position that APIs are not copyrightable.

The Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments in the Spring. It is being asked by Google to overturn a decision made by the Federal Circuit that found against the company in its decade-long clash with Oracle over a Javascript API.

The brief, which was filed jointly with IBM argues: “Computer interfaces are not copyrightable. That simple, yet powerful principle has been a cornerstone of technological and economic growth for over sixty years.

“When published (as has been common industry practice for over three decades) or lawfully reverse engineered, they have spurred innovation through competition, increased productivity and economic efficiency, and connected the world in a way that has benefited commercial enterprises and consumers alike.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) notes on the case: “Treating APIs as copyrightable has a profound negative impact on interoperability and innovation. And it goes against decades of tradition and common practice in the software world.”

Oracle’s position is blunt. As General Counsel Dorian Daley puts it: “Google’s true concern [is] that it be allowed the unfettered ability to copy the original and valuable work of others as a matter of its own convenience and for substantial financial gain.”

A host of companies have thrown their support behind Google’s stance that APIs should not be copyrighted. In another “friend of the court” filling Medium, Cloudera, Shopify, Reddit, Patreon have also supported Google.

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Following suit in a blog post this week Red Hat noted that it has a stake in the “consistent and correct determination of the scope of copyright protection that applies to interfaces of computer programs, including the Java platform interface at stake in this case. Open source software development relies on the availability of and unencumbered access to software interfaces, including products that are compatible with or interoperate with other computer products, platforms, and services.”

Oracle V Google

Oracle fired the first salvo in this battle when it sued Google over the company’s use of Java APIs in Android. Oracle won that round in 2012, however this was overturned in 2016 when a jury deemed Google’s actions to be fair use. That verdict was subsequently thrown out in 2018 by a higher court.  At this stage it is hard to estimate the total cost of the legal battle, especially since it has been running for nearly a decade, but some estimate the damages could amount to $8.8 billion if Google loses.

See Also: Can Google’s Fuchsia OS Save it from $8.8 Billion Oracle Loss?

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