Thursday 28 May 2015

Obama administration favour Oracle's copyright position in API battle

In the US, the Obama administration has sided against Google and said the U.S. Supreme Court should not hear the company's appeal in a case against Oracle with wide implications for the technology industry, according to a court filing. The case involves how much copyright protection should extend to the Java programming language. 

At issue in Oracle v. Google is whether Oracle can claim a copyright on Java APIs and, if so, whether Google has infringed these copyrights.  APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) are, generally speaking, specifications that allow programs to communicate with each other.

Overturing Judge William Alsup  the Northern District of California who ruled that APIs are not subject to copyright, the  U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the Java APIs are copyrightable, with the appellate court saying "We conclude that a set of commands to instruct a computer to carry out desired operations may contain expression that is eligible for copyright protection" but leaving open the possibility that Google might have a fair use defense. Its important - Google used Java to design its Android smartphone operating system, and unsurprisingly Googe then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Google maintained that the code at issue is not entitled to copyright protection because it constitutes a "method of operation" or "system" that allows programs to communicate with one another.

In January SCOTUS asked the Obama administration for its opinion on whether it should take the case because the federal government has a strong interest.

Previously the Electronic Frontiers Fooundation (RFF) had filed an amicus brief on behalf of a group of 32 prominent computer scientists which urged the Supreme Court to reverse the appeals court decision saying "The Federal Circuit’s decision poses a significant threat to the technology sector and to the public" and "If it is allowed to stand, Oracle and others will have an unprecedented and dangerous power over the future of innovation. API creators would have veto rights over any developer who wants to create a compatible program—regardless of whether she copies any literal code from the original API implementation. That, in turn, would upset the settled business practices that have enabled the American computer industry to flourish, and choke off many of the system’s benefits to consumers."

Now in the latest court filing, U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli said Google's argument that the code is not entitled to copyright protection lacks merit and did not need to be reviewed by the Supreme Court. Verrilli added that Google had raised important concerns about the effect that enforcement of Oracle's copyright could have on software development, but said those issues could be addressed via further proceedings on Google's separate "fair use" defence in San Francisco federal court.

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