A decade-old legal copyright case between tech giants Oracle and Google over software rights moves to the United States (US) Supreme Court. The case has enormous implications for copyright in the digital era. The case which dates back to a lawsuit filed in 2010 by Oracle seeking billions from Google over its use of Java programming language in its Android mobile operating system.
The US Supreme Court has commenced hearing the oral arguments in the case.
Two separate jury trials ended with a determination that Google's "software interface" did not unfairly use Java code, saving the internet giant from a possible multibillion-dollar verdict. But an appeals court in 2018 disagreed, saying the software interface is entitled to copyright protection, prompting Google to take the case to the highest US Court.
Oracle, which in 2010 obtained the rights to Java when it acquired Sun Microsystems -- which had supported Google's use of Java for Android -- sought $9 billion in damages in its original complaint.
Google and many Silicon Valley allies have argued that extending copyright protection to bits of code, called application programming interfaces, or APIs, would threaten innovation in the fast-evolving digital world.
According to Google, a win for Oracle would "upend the longstanding expectation of software developers that they are free to use existing computer software interfaces to build new programs."
The American Antitrust Institute argued in an amicus brief that allowing Oracle to maintain copyright protection "may slow innovation and competition in software-dependent markets," and "may cement software-based monopolies."
The US government has filed a brief supporting Oracle, arguing that copyright cannot be taken away from creators simply because it exists in digital format.
According to Justice Department brief, Google copied 11,500 lines of (Oracle's) copyrighted code as well as the "complex architecture of the 37 packages at issue".
In a court filing, the Hudson Institute has stated that if Google is allowed to walk away with "intellectual property theft" it would be difficult to protect any digital property from Chinese misappropriation.
The American Association of Publishers which is on Oracle's side has argued that weakening copyright protection would make it more difficult "to create and disseminate original works of authorship." The two companies will argue on the question of "fair use" of copyrighted material for a "transformative" purpose. This standard which allows someone to create a completely new work does not require permission or licensing from the original author.
According to Google, a jury outcome has already determined its actions represented fair use and that the courts should honour that decision without prolonging the litigation.
Oracle, in its latest brief, claimed that fair use "hinges on legal judgments that balance competing interests" of the parties.
A decision by the court may take several weeks or months. The case is being remotely heard with eight instead of nine justices.