Oracle Responds to Google's Appeal to the Supreme Court on Java Copyright

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Oracle filed its response this week to Google's appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) to review and reverse a federal circuit court's decision to uphold an earlier ruling that the Alphabet subsidiary infringed on Oracle's copyrights to Java code it used in its Android mobile operating system.

"Google has a problem," Oracle stated in its filing. "It committed an egregious act of plagiarism and now needs to rewrite copyright law to justify it. It cannot."

In November of last year, SCOTUS agreed to decide whether Google should have to pay Oracle $8.8 billion in damages for its use of 37 Java APIs. (Our earlier report includes a summary of the long history of this case, which started when Oracle sued Google in 2010.) The two companies are scheduled to appear before the high court in March.

That Google copied those APIs, totaling 11,330 lines of code, as well as "the intricate organization and relationships" among them, is not in dispute. The question the high court must answer is, did Google violate Oracle's copyright?

In this new filing, Oracle argues that Congress has chosen to treat software the same as any literary work. "All that matters for copyrightability is that the code or structure Google copied was original expression, which Google conceded each was," Oracle states. "And all that matters for fair use is that Google used the code for the same purpose in a competing product for commercial advantage, which Google also conceded."

Oracle further states: "By Google's logic, a plagiarist could define J.K. Rowling's idea as 'a story about Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger who attend Hogwarts' and steal the characters and their back stories."

Oracle also argues that a Google victory would hurt US tech companies, making them vulnerable to foreign competitors. The company has said that

Oracle also said "numerous" groups and individuals will be endorsing its position before the court, including the Songwriters Guild, which Oracle said will state: "There are untold riches in running the Internet of other people's things." More than two dozen organizations and individuals, including IBM and Microsoft, have submitted briefs supporting Google.

If Oracle prevails in the high court, the case returns to a federal jury in California, which will calculate the damages. If Google wins, it's finally over. Either decision is likely to establish a precedent for copyrighting code in the U.S. that will affect software makers everywhere.

About the Author

John K. Waters is the editor in chief of a number of sites, with a focus on high-end development, AI and future tech. He's been writing about cutting-edge technologies and culture of Silicon Valley for more than two decades, and he's written more than a dozen books. He also co-scripted the documentary film Silicon Valley: A 100 Year Renaissance, which aired on PBS.  He can be reached at [email protected].