26 February 2019Copyright

EFF asks SCOTUS to clarify Oracle v Google

The  Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has filed an  amicus  brief urging the US Supreme Court to review the long-running case between Google and Oracle.

The case dates to 2010, when Oracle filed a copyright suit against Google over the application program interface (API) of the Java programming language.

The foundation filed the document on Monday, February 25. It said the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which previously ruled in the case, analysed the Java API the way “one would analyse copyrightability or fair use for a work of entertainment such as a book or screenplay”.

EFF said the court’s approach was “both simplistic and erroneous”.

When the case was first heard, a trial court ruled in Google’s favor, finding the APIs in question weren’t copyrightable.

The Federal Circuit reversed, and Google asked the Supreme Court to review the ruling. But when the Supreme Court denied, the case went back to the trial court. Google won, again, but the  Federal Circuit reversed, again.

In its statement, the foundation said the Federal Circuit had “created a copyright mess that only the Supreme Court can fix”.

It said that the court’s holding that API’s are entitled to copyright protection ran contrary to the views of most other courts and the long-held expectations of computer scientists.

EFF described the Federal Circuit opinions as “a disaster for innovation in computer software”.

The foundation said that by overturning the jury at trial court, the Federal Circuit created enormous legal uncertainty for any software developer thinking about reimplementing pre-existing APIs.

“If the first Federal Circuit opinion means that APIs are copyrightable, and the second opinion means that a jury isn’t allowed to decide that using a competitor’s APIs is a fair use, then there are few, if any, ways that a second competitor can enter a market with an API-compatible product,” the foundation said.

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More on this story

7 April 2021   The US Supreme Court put its weight behind fair use, leaving the protection of software for another day, says Victor Johnson of Dykema.
16 April 2021   As the fallout over SCOTUS’ ruling in Google v Oracle continues, Michael Graif of Mintz unpacks the blistering dissent to the landmark decision.
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