The Supreme Court justices appeared highly aware Wednesday that their decision in a copyright dispute between Google and Oracle could have far-reaching consequences for Silicon Valley, but after an hour and a half of arguments it was not clear which company’s dire warning they most seemed to believe.
Each of the court’s eight justices grilled attorneys representing Google and Oracle, as well as the U.S. deputy solicitor general, in a case that could upend the tech industry’s understanding of who owns small but essential chunks of code that allow different programs and platforms to connect.
Questions for Google: The justices lobbed some of their toughest questions at Google’s attorney, Tom Goldstein, scrutinizing his argument that Google copied code from Oracle because it had no other option. Google has asserted that the code is necessary for developers to create applications for its Android operating system and that these application programming interfaces, or APIs, are widely used without a license.
“Cracking the safe may be the only way to get the money that you want but that doesn’t mean you can do it,” Chief Justice John Roberts said.
Roberts added that when the code in question was first created by Sun Microsystems and later acquired by Oracle, there was more than one way to write it. He and several other justices surmised Google copied Oracle’s code because it was already popular with developers and more expedient than writings it own.
Justice Neil Gorsuch said, “The argument strikes me very much as, ‘I wish to share the facilities of a more successful rival because they’ve come up with a particularly elegant, or efficient, or successful highly adopted solution in the marketplace,’ and ride on their innovation.”
Questions for Oracle: Oracle’s attorney, Joshua Rosenkranz, pushed the idea that declaring it legal to copy
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