Oracle Appeals Android Lawsuit

If at first you don't succeed, ask a higher court to intervene. Oracle continues its legal crusade to get Google to pay for Android.

Thomas Claburn, Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

October 5, 2012

3 Min Read

10 Ways To Get More From Your Android Device

10 Ways To Get More From Your Android Device

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Oracle is continuing its legal crusade to get Google to pay for Android. The company on Thursday filed court documents appealing the final judgement in the case, handed down in June, and "any and all other orders and rulings adverse to Oracle."

Oracle prevailed in its claim that Google's Android code infringed Oracle's copyrights, but the amount of the infringement--nine lines of code out of millions--was deemed so insignificant that Google and Oracle, faced with a jury deadlock on fair use, agreed there would be no damages. Oracle lost its patent claims and, most importantly, its effort to establish that its Java APIs qualify for copyright protection. As a result, Oracle's appeal is broad, but it is primarily seeking a reversal of Judge Alsup's ruling that APIs cannot be copyrighted.

Oracle did not respond to request for comment. Oracle's central claim against Google was that Google had copied the "structure, sequence, and organization" of 37 API packages in Android.

Google denied that claim, asserting that Oracle was claiming control over an idea rather than a specific expression of an idea. "Computer programming languages are not copyrightable, and neither are Oracle's APIs," Google said in one of its filings.

[ Read Oracle Vs. Google: Tour The Evidence. ]

In a ruling handed down in late May, Judge Alsup agreed with Google. He wrote that copyright law does not give the copyright holder control over all the ways to implement a function or specification. "The [Copyright] Act confers ownership only over the specific way in which the author wrote out his version," he wrote. "Others are free to write their own implementation to accomplish the identical function, for, importantly, ideas, concepts and functions cannot be monopolized by copyright."

The judge's ruling echoed a ruling earlier in the month from the Court of Justice of the European Union that neither the functionality of a computer program nor the format of its data files are expressive enough to qualify for copyright protection.

Santa Clara University Law School professor Tyler Ochoa said in a phone interview that he believes it is unlikely Oracle's appeal will succeed. "The judge's opinion is extraordinarily thoughtful," he said. "I think it's one of the best opinions on the copyrightability of software that I've ever read. Judges who are not programmers will be reluctant to second-guess his views."

Supporters of open-source software such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation have argued that allowing functional APIs to be copyrighted "would allow companies to dangerously hold up important interoperability functionality that developers and users rely on everyday."

Google has donated money to the EFF, as it has with other non-profits. The EFF has denied writing about the case at Google's behest.

Judge Alsup in August ordered Google and Oracle to disclose people paid to comment on the case. Google's initial response, in which the company denied paying for case commentary, prompted Oracle to complain that Google had failed to comply with the order. Google's subsequent response reiterated that it had not paid anyone to comment on the case.

Oracle told the court that it had retained blogger Florian Mueller as a paid consultant, though not to write specifically about the case. Mueller had asserted as much in April.

About the Author(s)

Thomas Claburn

Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

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 master's degree in film production. He wrote the original treatment for 3DO's Killing Time, a short story that appeared in On Spec, and the screenplay for an independent film called The Hanged Man, which he would later direct. He's the author of a science fiction novel, Reflecting Fires, and a sadly neglected blog, Lot 49. His iPhone game, Blocfall, is available through the iTunes App Store. His wife is a talented jazz singer; he does not sing, which is for the best.

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