Microsoft, IBM and others back Google in high-stakes Supreme Court copyright case
A broad group of tech firms including Microsoft Corp. has thrown its support behind Google LLC in its high-stake copyright dispute with Oracle Corp., which will go before the U.S. Supreme Court this year.
The list includes a Who’s Who of major industry players. Axios reported today that Microsoft, IBM Corp., its subsidiary Red Hat, Etsy Inc., Cloudera Inc., Shopify Inc. and several others have sent friend-of-the-court briefs to the Supreme Court backing Google’s position. There were also several prominent industry bodies among the signatories, including the Wikimedia Foundation.
At stake is the status of application programming interfaces. Oracle is suing Google because early versions of Android contained 11,500 lines of code copied from the API of the Java programming platform, to which Oracle owns the rights. The database maker argues that the use of its code constituted a copyright violation, while Google posits that it was legal under the fair-use doctrine.
The reason the case has attracted so much industry attention is because copying APIs from other applications is a widespread practice in the software world. That’s so much so that if the Supreme Court rules in Oracle’s favor, it might mean some of the companies that voiced their support for Google this week could themselves become the targets of copyright claims. In the case of Microsoft and IBM, many of their enterprise customers would likely be in the same boat.
“Subjecting open public interfaces to copyright law would hurt business and impede innovation,” IBM General Counsel Michelle Browdy said in a statement. “We must continue to foster an environment where companies of all sizes can use openly available interfaces to fuel the research and innovation that has reshaped our world.”
Not mincing words, Oracle reaffirmed its position in a statement to Axios. “Google makes its money free-riding on the intellectual property and content of others,” said Deborah Hellinger, Oracle’s head of corporate communications. “Google stole Java and killed interoperability to create its proprietary Android operating system. At bottom, Google’s brief — and those bartered briefs of its supporters — stand for the remarkable proposition that stealing is easier than creating.”
The legal dispute between the companies dates back more than a decade. It started when Sun Microsystems Inc., the original developer of Java, sued Google in 2009 over Android’s use of the API code. Oracle acquired Sun the following year for $7.4 billion and took over the lawsuit.
The case was sent to the Supreme Court last year after a Federal Circuit panel issued a ruling siding with Oracle. The justices will hear arguments in the spring.
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