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Google and Oracle's Copyright War Is Getting Eerie

The implications of the Google vs. Oracle copyright infringement case

1Sep

Failure to review the Google vs. Oracle copyright infringement case has led lots of pundits to believe the decision by U.S. Supreme Court will have a far reaching and disturbing implication. The Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal by Google on a previous decision by the Federal Circuit that had ruled in favor of Oracle. It has been termed as a disaster in the waiting for the entire U.S. software industry as many advocacy groups and pundits warned of less innovation going forward and compatibility issues. Interoperability will be profoundly impacted, thus affecting innovation and believed to be bad for innovative developers, particularly in the United States.

While the news is yet to sink in for all the stakeholders affected, actual developers have not been lamenting the turn of events. Industry nervousness on this issue has not been high, as expected. However, the truth is that lots of the services and apps people use today are not really affected by the ruling on the Oracle/Google case, but the most frightening thing is no one knows how this will turn out in the future.

The real issue

The heart of the matter is the issue of APIs (Application Programming Interfaces), basically the tools giving developers the ability to come up with applications on diverse platforms or connecting their applications with various additional services. A good example is a fitness iPhone app using APIs owned by Apple to retrieve and even send information within the Health app. At the same time, if an app is allowing you to log in with your social networking credentials, it is most likely taking place through an API.

In this instance, Google created the Android OS by having the Java version it had rewritten (Oracle now owns Java). As a result, Java APIs could now be repurposed by Google and developers using Java could now create Android apps easily. In matters to do with copyright, Java API rewriting is not that concerned, but the Java APIs are copyright material and the act of repurposing them was an infringement, which was done to allow the development of Android apps.

Google has not lost yet

By 2012, it seemed Google could win the case on copyright infringement after a positive decision by the District Court. However by 2014, the decision was reversed by the Federal Circuit of Courts of Appeals culminating into the appeals denial by the Supreme Court. This does not mean Google has lost; the case has now gone back to the District Court for a Fair Use deliberation.

Preventing innovation in future

There are lots of APIs without copyrights that have led to global advancement in software development and performance, including Oracle-specific performance optimization. A good example is the 1970s Unix API, a creation of Bell Lab, owned by AT&T, which was used by Linux. To date, Linux powers over 30 percent of web servers around the world and provides the foundation for Android. At the same time, the API of the C programming language has been re-implemented a lot of times, allowing developers to innovate for diverse platforms.

All and all, the fear in the Oracle vs. Google is that an increase in copyrighted APIs could end up preventing similar innovations in the coming days and years. Copyright concerns will most likely stop developers across the divide from repurposing old APIs into usable and new forms. On the other hand, the effect could very well be indirect since programs or languages that lack interoperability due to a legal uncertainty are a long shot for many developers. Furthermore, developers could be forced to reinvent than reuse existing APIs to foster compatibility. Only time will tell. 

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