US Supreme Court justices peppered lawyers for Google and Oracle with questions on computer code and copyright Wednesday in a court clash which could have major ramifications for the technology sector and digital innovation.
Oral arguments were heard in a decade-old legal battle between the two Silicon Valley giants stemming from Oracle’s claim that Google illegally copied parts of the Java programming language to develop its Android mobile operating system.
The case revolves around whether copyright protection should be extended to application software interfaces (APIs), or bit of code that allow programs and apps to work together, and if so, whether Google’s implementation was a “fair use” of copyrighted material.
In the court session held remotely, Google attorney Thomas Goldstein argued that the practice of reusing software interfaces “is critical to modern interoperable computer software” and allows developers “to write millions of creative applications that are used by more than a billion people.”
Goldstein maintained that these APIs were simply a set of instructions for software and were “minimally creative,” thus not eligible for copyright.
He claimed that Oracle’s effort would “make computer programming incredibly inefficient,” resulting in “fewer creative computer programs.”
Joshua Rosenkranz, the attorney arguing for Oracle, said the cases was simply about the theft of 11,000 lines of computer code, which should be under copyright protection as a “creative” work.
Rosenkranz said Google could have paid Oracle a licensing fee or developed its own code as rivals did.
“Microsoft and Apple both spent billion of dollars creating their competing platforms, and that’s exactly what the Copyright Act requires,” he told the eight justices.
– Like restaurant menus? –
Chief Justice John Roberts questioned whether the APIs should be considered like restaurant menus which simply organize offerings based on categories.
“You’re going to have… appetizers first and entrees