Google Appeals Ruling that Use of Java APIs in Android Violates Oracle’s Copyrights
By Katherine Kwong– Edited by Ashish Bakshi
Petition for Writ of Certiorari, Google Inc. v. Oracle Am., Inc., No. 14–410 (U.S. October 6, 2014)
Petition hosted by The American Lawyer.
On October 6, Google filed a petition for writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court, asking the Court to rule on whether copyright protections extend to a software “system or method of operation,” such as an application programming interface (API). Petition for Writ of Certiorari, Google Inc. v. Oracle Am., Inc., No. 14-410 (U.S. October 6, 2014).
Google and Oracle have been embroiled in a legal battle since 2010, when Oracle filed suit alleging that Google’s use of Java method headers and class names in the Android operating system infringed upon Oracle’s copyrights. Oracle Am., Inc. v. Google Inc. 872 F.Supp.2d 974, 975 (N.D. Cal. 2012). Hosted by Casetext.com. Oracle claimed that Google “has replicated the structure, sequence and organization of the overall code” of 37 Java API packages. Id.
The trial court ruled in 2012 that Oracle’s Java API was “a system or method of operation under Section 102(b) of the Copyright Act” that therefore could not be copyrighted. Id. at 977. The court’s rationale was that the duplicated Java method headers under contention could not be copyrighted because they needed to be duplicated to ensure interoperability. Id. at 976. Java’s class names were likewise ruled ineligible for copyright because “copyright protection never extends to names or short phrases as a matter of law.” Id.
This decision was overturned by the Federal Circuit, which held that APIs “are entitled to copyright protection.” Oracle Am., Inc. v. Google Inc. 750 F.3d 1339, 1348 (Fed. Cir. 2014). Hosted by FindLaw.com. The Federal Circuit based its decision on Google’s use of Oracle’s “structure, sequence, and organization” from Java rather than the literal copying of small pieces of code. Id. at 1354. The Electronic Frontier Foundation decried the reversal, arguing that “excluding APIs from copyright protection has been essential to the development of modern computers and the Internet.”
In its petition for writ of certiorari, Google urges the Supreme Court to overturn the Federal Circuit’s decision that APIs are copyrightable, arguing that allowing long-term copyrights on systems and methods of operations would stifle innovation and creativity. Petition for Writ of Certiorari, Google Inc. v. Oracle Am., Inc. (No. 14-410).
Google asserts that the case is worthy of the Court’s consideration based on what it describes as a circuit split between the Federal Circuit and other courts of appeals. Id. Additionally, Google contends that the Federal Circuit’s decision runs counter to previous Supreme Court decisions and is “contrary to the plain language of the Copyright Act.” Id. at 13. Finally, Google declares its case is cert-worthy because “whether copyright may be used to evade the limits on patent protection, in order to secure 95-year (or longer) monopolies, is an exceptionally important question.” Id.
Google uses the QWERTY keyboard as a recurring metaphor throughout its petition, comparing the basic commands of Java that were used in Android to the layout of the QWERTY keyboard. Id. at 2. Once people learned how to type on the QWERTY layout, they expected everyone in the industry to use the standardized format; Google proposes that basic Java commands have similarly become the standard format for many programmers. Id. Google contends that allowing Oracle to copyright these basic, standardized components of Java would be similar to allowing the original manufacturer of the QWERTY keyboard to bring suit against anyone who used the standardized layout, inappropriately allowing the keyboard manufacturer (or Oracle) to “appropriate the investments made by others in learning how to use” the QWERTY keyboard (or Java). Id. Were the Federal Circuit’s decision to stand, Google argues that it would hamper development and radically alter practices within the software programming industry. Id. at 13.
PC World gives an overview of Google’s petition, describing the case as one “that some developers think could have a big impact on their ability to innovate in software.” Law360 also highlighted the petition.
Ars Technica and others point out that even if the Court declines Google’s petition, the appeals court remanded the case to determine whether Google’s use of the copyrighted material constituted fair use or infringement. This determination will decide whether Google is liable for damages related to infringement.