Appeals court resurrects Oracle-Google copyright battle
By Glenn Chapman, AFP Sunday, May 11, 2014, 12:00 am TWN
SAN FRANCISCO--An appeals court on Friday breathed new life into Oracle's big-money lawsuit against Google by ruling that software commands can be copyrighted just like classic books.
The case stems from 2012 trial, in which Oracle claimed Google owed them billions in damages for using parts of the Java programming language in its Android smartphone operating system.
The case is being closely watched in Silicon Valley, where some champions of Internet freedom worry that extending copyright protection to these bits of code, called application programming interfaces, or APIs, would threaten innovation.
A panel of three judges in the U.S. Federal Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that the trial court in 2012 erred and that it is bound to afford APIs protection under copyright laws "until either the Supreme Court or Congress tells us otherwise."
"We're disappointed — and worried," the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) said in a blog post about the appeals court decision.
"The implications of this decision are significant, and dangerous."
The EFF and other groups worry the decision could herald an explosion in legal battles over software spreading to copyrights in how code is written.
Could Go to Supreme Court
In the 2012 trial before U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup California business software titan Oracle accused Google of infringing on Java computer programming language patents and copyrights Oracle obtained when it bought Java inventor Sun Microsystems in a US$7.4 billion deal in 2009.
Oracle argued that it held copyrights to how the APIs worked even if different strings of code were used to orchestrate the tasks.
In the fast-paced land of Internet innovation, it has been common for software writers to put their own spins on APIs that mini-programs use to "talk" to one another.
Google denied the claims and said it believes mobile phone makers and other users of its open-source Android operating system are entitled to use the Java technology in dispute.
"When there is only one way to express an idea or function, then everyone is free to do so and no one can monopolize that expression," Alsup said in his ruling last year.
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