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Copyright Blog

Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments in Landmark Copyright Case

After a decade of ligation, Oracle v. Google nears resolution

After ten years of litigation, and more than a six month delay due to COVID-19, the litigation between technology behemoths Oracle and Google has taken another step towards resolution. On October 7, 2020, a telephonic conference was held wherein the Supreme Court heard oral arguments from both parties. You can listen to oral arguments here, and read additional details and a summary of the case in our March 3, 2020, blog post.

The Supreme Court granted cert on two issues: (1) whether software interface is subject to copyright law; and (2) whether Google’s use of a software interface constitutes fair use.

Google argues that the code is not subject to copyright protection. It claims that, "the long-settled practice of reusing software interfaces is critical to modern interoperable computer software." Google asserts that for it's Android platform, “the commands require Google to reuse an exact set of declarations from Java SE, like a key that fits into a lock,” and that this key has “no substitutes.”

As for fair use, Google argues that the code is an example of “minimally creative declarations” which, if true, would lean in Google's favor in a fair use analysis. Google also stated that it had previously prevailed in front of two separate juries on this issue.

Lastly, Google argued that there will be future consequences if the Court finds in favor of Oracle. Google claims that the software industry has always been “reusing the minimally creative declarations” which allows for “the developers to write millions of creative applications that are used by more than a billion people.” Google contends that innovation in software development will be stifled if the Courts sides with Oracle.

On the other hand, Oracle argues that it's code is subject to copyright protection. Oracle began it's opening statement by claiming that, “Congress defined literary work to include software and granted copyright protection as long as the code is original. Google conceded Oracle's code is original.” Oracle argues the Javascript coding is defined by law as an original work that is subject to copyright protection.

Oracle also refutes Google’s claim that Google had to copy the code in order to get it's Android platform to function. Oracle asserts that the “developers don't have to use the pre-written programs at all” and that Apple and Microsoft - Google’s rivals in the software business - “did not copy to create their competing platforms.”

Oracle argues that if Google prevails, “it will encourage copying, create legal uncertainty, and decimate the business model which a lot of companies depend on, undermining the very incentives copyright was designed to promote.”

Now both parties are awaiting the Supreme Court's opinion. This will be the final decision in this case and will conclude ten years of litigation. We will provide updates as they become available.