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Oracle Beats Google In Android Appeal

Ruling affirms that Oracle's Java APIs qualify for copyright protection. Will Google have to pay $1 billion?

Google's 10 Big Bets On The Future
Google's 10 Big Bets On The Future
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A federal appeals court on Friday ruled that Oracle is entitled to protect its Java APIs under copyright law, reviving the company's copyright case against Google and raising questions about whether software interoperability might become much more costly.

Oracle sued Google in 2010 over its use of Java code in Android. It lost its patent claim and prevailed in its copyright claim, but the jury could not reach a verdict about whether Google's actions qualified as fair use. That prompted the judge hearing the case to address whether Oracle could bring a copyright lawsuit to protect its Java API code.

In 2012, US District Court Judge William Alsup denied Oracle's claim that the "structure, sequence, and organization" of its Java APIs are protected under copyright law. He ruled that as long as the code used to implement a specific method differs from Oracle's code, anyone can write code that performs the same function as the methods that form the Java API. "It does not matter that the declaration or method header lines are identical," he wrote in his ruling. "…Duplication of the command structure is necessary for interoperability."

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The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington disagreed. "We conclude that the declaring code and the structure, sequence, and organization of the 37 Java API packages at issue are entitled to copyright protection," the ruling states, directing the lower court to reinstate the prior infringement verdict and to return to the undecided issue of whether Google's actions qualify as fair use.

Oracle celebrated the ruling in a statement. "We are extremely pleased that the Federal Circuit denied Google's attempt to drastically limit copyright protection for computer code," said Dorian Daley, Oracle General Counsel, in an email. "The Federal Circuit's opinion is a win for Oracle and the entire software industry that relies on copyright protection to fuel innovation and ensure that developers are rewarded for their breakthroughs. We are confident that the district court will appropriately apply the fair use doctrine on remand, which is not intended to protect naked commercial exploitation of copyrighted material."

Google wasn't ready to say how it will proceed. "We're disappointed by this ruling, which sets a damaging precedent for computer science and software

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Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful ... View Full Bio

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ElP01201
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ElP01201,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/16/2014 | 10:48:42 PM
Re: APIs should be copyright protected
"APIs are fundamentally different that literary text because they have a functional component. When an API exists with a certain structure, you have to use that structure for interoperability. If you don't, you get an error."

 

The point is that you don't use the structure. The structure is the intellectual property. You get an error when you don't use the structure because then you're beginning to use your own brain to build some intellectual property.
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
5/12/2014 | 1:08:21 PM
Re: APIs should be copyright protected
>If we take this reasoning to the extreme, anyone can write a book based on a popular book with the same story outline, same plot, same characters (albiet with different names), same locations, etc, but with different words.

But copyright law allows that. You can write a book that's similar to another book as long as the words are different. People do that all the time. Think how many versions of Romeo and Juliet there are.

APIs are fundamentally different that literary text because they have a functional component. When an API exists with a certain structure, you have to use that structure for interoperability. If you don't, you get an error.
DonnKilat
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DonnKilat,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/12/2014 | 12:18:05 PM
APIs should be copyright protected

In 2012, US District Court Judge William Alsup denied Oracle's claim that the "structure, sequence, and organization" of its Java APIs are protected under copyright law. He ruled that as long as the code used to implement a specific method differs from Oracle's code, anyone can write code that performs the same function as the methods that form the Java API.

If we take this reasoning to the extreme, anyone can write a book based on a popular book with the same story outline, same plot, same characters (albiet with different names), same locations, etc, but with different words. I don't care much for Oracle, Google, Java or Android (I'm a .NET guy), but I'm glad Oracle won. I've been following this issue up until Alsup made his verdict, but everyone knew back then, that no matter the verdict Alsup made, that verdict would be appealed by whoever lost. I don't think Oracle would get any money just yet. But I hope this will set a precedent that APIs are copyrightable. Anyone who has designed a framework before, no matter how small, will say that framework design is a creative process. Don't let your Oracle-hate or Google-love blind you.

Drew Conry-Murray
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Drew Conry-Murray,
User Rank: Ninja
5/12/2014 | 11:54:49 AM
Re: Code
I imagine Google will appeal this. They've got deep pockets and good lawyers. Android is really important to Google's mobile presence, so there's motivation to fight.
MatthewB897
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MatthewB897,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/12/2014 | 10:19:24 AM
Re: Code
Orcale does more than charge as much as it can for its crappy DB, they are also one of the biggest patent troll in the industry and have been called so for the past 4 years. They have been mostly irrlavent in the industry for some time now. The only thing that keeps them a float is the buiessness that are stuck with oracle and their trolling.
mak63
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mak63,
User Rank: Ninja
5/12/2014 | 2:43:43 AM
Oracle
Just to hear the name Oracle makes me sick to my stomach. Specially after the fiasco they did on Cover Oregon.
I hope Google takes the case all the way to the Supreme Court.
danielcawrey
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danielcawrey,
User Rank: Ninja
5/11/2014 | 12:59:37 PM
Code
This is indeed a big problem for interoperability code. But when Oracle bought Sun in 2009, Android had already been developed and deployed. I believe that Sun had some idealistic tendencies when developing technologies like Java; there's a reason why Oracle bought them in the respect that they were having money problems. 

Oracle does not have money problems. That's because Oracle charges its customers as much as it can. This lawsuit is a very succinct example of that. 
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