The Oracle v. Google trial is the latest battle in a long and grueling struggle between the two tech giants. In short, Google has found enormous success with the Android OS for mobile devices, which has meant corresponding profits as well. The Android OS does not use Java, which is a programming language created by Sun Microsystems, but it does use something based on Java. This was shown when it released the software development kit for the Android OS, which used some of the same application programming interfaces (APIs), which are the specifications that programs use to communicate with each other, as Java. Initially, Sun Microsystems responded positively, but its discussions with Google about a potential partnership were inconclusive. After Sun Microsystems sold Java to Oracle in 2010, the discussions continued for a time, but by the end of the same year, Oracle had chosen to sue Google for copyright infringement.
Oracle’s position is a simple and straightforward one. Its claim was that Google has stolen not just thousands and thousands of lines of code that belonged to Oracle but also the structure, the sequence, and the organization of 37 API packages. In contrast, Google’s defense was that APIs should not be subject to copyright since the sheer extent of their use makes such copyrights a serious hindrance to invention and innovation in the technological sphere. The jurors of the first trial seem to have found both sides’ positions to be sympathetic, seeing as how there was an even split between those who decided for Oracle and those who decided for Google, thus forcing the judge presiding over the trial to make the decision, which resulted in a ruling that APIs cannot be copyrighted at all.
However, Oracle was not satisfied with this outcome for obvious reasons, which is why it appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Said institution overruled the initial ruling, which in turn, caused Google to appeal to the U.S Supreme Court. Unfortunately for Google, the U.S. Supreme Court has refused to review the ruling, meaning that there will now be a second trial on whether Google’s use of the API packages could be considered fair use or not.
What Are the Implications for Both Businesses and Consumers?
First, it is important to note that the ruling of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit stands, meaning that APIs can now be copyrighted. This is a change from the previous state of affairs, under which existing APIs could be used and improved upon as needed. As a result, it promises to introduce a host of changes, which promise little that is good for either businesses or consumers.
This is supported by a petition that was sent to the U.S. Supreme Court at around the same time that Google appealed the ruling of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Said petition was supported by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which is a nonprofit dedicated to defending digital rights, but also had the support of luminaries such as Tim Paterson, who wrote MS-DOS, and Larry Roberts, who developed Arpanet. Their position is a simple one – should APIs be copyrighted, there was bound to be a slowdown in invention and innovation as well as an increase in costs, which would be passed on in part to the people who are intended to use the programs that use APIs.
After all, smaller users could be forced out of the market altogether should a copyright holder choose to enforce the ownership of their APIs, whereas even bigger users would have to put a stop to their operations while they check to make sure that they are in compliance with the law. Something that is particularly expensive and time-consuming because it calls for a fair amount of special expertise and experience that are not readily available. Considering the sheer extent to which APIs are used, this means increased costs for not just all consumers but also all businesses out there, thus making it more than just the problem of a particular segment of society. Unfortunately, the petition met with no success, as shown by the fact that the second Oracle v. Google trial is starting soon.
Who Are the Jurors Chosen for the Case?
According to Ars Technica, ten jurors have already been chosen for the second Oracle v. Google trial, which was the result of the usual process in which each candidate was run through a list of their basic information such as their names, their places of residence, and their level of education before being questioned in more specific detail by the representatives of both sides in the case. Unsurprisingly, they come from a wide range of backgrounds and circumstances, as shown by how their numbers include but are not limited to an electrician, a homemaker, and a former corporate executive. Given Google’s dominance of its markets, it should come as no surprise to learn that all of them have used Google products at some point in their lives, though they bear no customer loyalty based on those previous interactions, which is why they have managed to make it in as jurors for the case.
Naturally, neither side was hesitant about making use of their power to dismiss a limited number of candidates. Some examples were relatively serious, as shown by Oracle’s choice to dismiss a networking manager who had heard about the case as well as Google’s choice to dismiss someone who did not believe in the concept of free software. Some were much less so, as shown by the example of a college student who admitted that he would not be able to suppress the desire to look up the issue on the Internet as well as the example of another candidate who could not resist proselytizing in the middle of the proceedings. The current ten men and women after the ones left over after the exhaustive process, meaning that they are also the ones who will be deciding the outcome of the case, which could have consequences measuring in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
It remains to be seen who will win the second Oracle vs. Google trial, which will have interesting implications for exactly what will constitute fair use when it comes to APIs since it is a case that will establish precedents. However, the fight over whether APIs should be copyrighted or not is over. It will be interesting to see how both businesses and consumers respond to these changes in the years to come, but at the same time, they should also be bracing themselves just in case the consequences are as rough as some of the worst suggestions make them out to be.