Oracle v. Google: API Opening New Issues in Copyright
In recent times, a decision has come in again in the battle between Oracle and Google over the Android operating system, specifically the API used to allow the programs to communicate with each other. The legal implications of this ruling could result in less protections for certain types of programs, while allowing a business to cut costs by using parts of others. Does your business involve the creation of mobile apps or computer programs? Do you have concerns about the protections afforded to your work? If so, this ruling may impact your business, and we recommend that you contact our law firm to speak with an attorney who can explain the current laws and help you plan for ways to protect your business.
For almost six years, Oracle, which is the successor to Sun Microsystems and current owner of Java, has been in litigation against Google, which is owned by Alphabet, the purveyors of the Android operating system over infringement of the Java Application Programming Interface ("API "). An API is a method for programs and systems to talk to one another, like embedding a YouTube video, or an application that allows you to post content onto Twitter. As such, this can be either a very valuable area to protect, as without a way for programs to interact, their usefulness may be hindered, and some may be reliant on those APIs to function properly. In the lawsuit, while Google had won in the lower court, the appellate court stated that the APIs were protected by copyright and remanded the issue to the lower court after an unsuccessful request to involve the United States Supreme Court. However, the jury in the second trial ultimately sided with Google, determining that the use of the program or code fell under the Fair Use Doctrine.
Google had argued that using the same words and rough methods as the Java API would be allowable because it did it to allow more programmers to write code in that language. As such, it was a market approach to allow the programmers to do more with the language, and to easily "adopt" the new Android system. Naturally, this would also serve to make the Android system easier for developers to jump into, and to facilitate the creation of a conducive ecosystem, similar to how an individual who already knows Latin may find it easier to transition into learning Spanish or French.
So, there is a concern for businesses, as a jury trial is not necessarily indicative of a judge's ruling, but it gives some comfort to those dealing with programming that as it stands currently, there is an appellate court's ruling in favor of the protection of APIs under copyright laws. However, the Fair Use Doctrine remains a problem under this purview. With the growth of technology and the general shift towards a transformative nature in determining fair use, it would be difficult to determine how or if the API could be sufficiently protected by law.
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