The Supreme Court will finally hear the arguments in a case that could rewrite the rules of software development as we know it. On Wednesday, Google will defend its use of Java code in the development of the Android operating system. Oracle claims the code is protected intellectual property, and if the court agrees, there are a lot of developers who should be nervous.
It’s been a decade since Oracle first sued Google, and it’s been nearly two years since the Supreme Court agreed to look into the case. Around that time, the Android operating system took over 75 percent of the mobile phone market, becoming one of the most successful software in history. But like all software, Android is an ingenious product based on the work of others.
During its early development, Google wanted Android to understand the commands used in the Java SE platform. To do this, he used a bunch of code to declare methods available in Android and Java. This code is known as API. It is very common to use APIs in development, and Google wanted Java developers to feel at home on Android. Although most of the code in Android was proprietary, it used 11,000 lines of code for the Java API, only 0.5% of the 3 millions of lines of code that make up Java SE. Many other developers out there put this code into their projects at the time, but Android was big enough to get Oracle’s attention, and in 2010 he sued for copyright infringement.
So far, a jury has settled with Google in 2016 and the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit overturned the ruling in 2018. At issue is the complicated enforcement of copyright law and fair use protections when it comes to of the dark arts of programming.
First of all, there is the question of ideas vs. expression. You can’t protect an idea. IS copyright law it does not cover any expressions required to use an idea. Anyone who wants to protect an idea would have to meet the toughest standards for obtaining a patent. But what constitutes an idea and an expression in programming?
In court documents, Google said the small amount of code used in Android was needed to access the larger Java system. Google’s position is that the code that provides access to the system is an interface and that interfaces should be considered in the category of ideas in the eyes of the law. Google believes that the expression of the idea comes later in the implementation of the system functionality.
Oracle did not agree with this interpretation and argued that Google could have rewrote the code to get the same access to the system without using the exact language of the Java developers. The two sides agree that Google has used the same claims to make it easier for developers to switch directly to Android, but disagree that it is reason enough to classify the API language as needed to implement the expression of an idea.
Google’s argument that Java code needed to be used is somewhat undermined by the fact that Android switched to a copyright-free engine in the years following Oracle’s initial lawsuit.
If Oracle wins that part of the debate, the court will then have to consider the fair use factors of the case. In 2016, a the jury decided that Google’s use of the API satisfied i fair use standard, and therefore his actions did not constitute copyright infringement.
Google’s main argument is that its use of the API has been transformative because we have this completely new operating system to show. Oracle says it’s absurd because its code was copied to the letter. More credibly, Google claims its small selection of copied code isn’t substantial. But Oracle also convincingly argues that Android and Java are both development platforms and, in that sense, are direct competitors – a call for consideration of market impact under the Fair Use Act. Oracle believes that Google should have paid a license fee just like other developers who use its code directly.
If the Supreme Court rules in Oracle’s favor by the end of the year, the case will return to lower courts to decide on the award of damages. Oracle previously asked Google to pay over $ 8 billion in compensation, but his attorney general, Dorian Daley, said so Reuters that he would review that request.
While that’s a lot of money, even for Google, the more interesting question is what an Oracle win will mean for developers big and small. There are many projects out there that freely use API code, and many people didn’t think about getting a license or believed it was necessary. A The loss of Google could mean that many projects never get off the ground for fear of implementing code that could become a legal liability in the future.