Monday, April 5, 2021 [Tweets] [Favorites]

Copying the Java API Was Fair Use

James Romoser (tweet, Hacker News):

The Supreme Court on Monday sided with Google over Oracle in a major copyright battle, ruling that Google’s copying of a portion of the Java SE computer program is protected as “fair use.”

The ruling in Google v. Oracle was 6-2, with Justice Stephen Breyer delivering the opinion of the court.

[…]

In siding with Google, Breyer wrote that, assuming for the sake of argument that the lines of code can be copyrighted, Google’s copying is nonetheless fair use.

Mike Masnick:

The background of this case is actually kind of important to understanding what just happened, so here’s a quick(ish) recap.

[…]

One of the big debates in the lead up to the case, and at oral arguments, was what “analogy” best represented what an API was. You can see above Breyer mention the Dewey Decimal System, which is a pretty good analogy.

[…]

Breyer then notes that even though Google asked the Court to say APIs are not covered by copyright, since they can answer the fair use question and dispose of the issue, the court will just assume that APIs are subject to copyright for the sake of exploring fair use, and leave the actual question of copyright and APIs to another day (groan).

Charles Duan:

SCOTUS doesn’t just rule in favor of Google in @googlevoracle, but says that API reimplementation is fair use as a matter of law, meaning that the decision applies to all APIs

[…]

Anyway, this is great news for software folks. The concern was that SCOTUS could just let the jury decision stand, solving Google’s case but leaving an open question for all future software developers.

Florian Mueller:

Given that the justices were pretty much unanimously leaning toward copyrightability in October, it would be quite risky for anyone to consider API declaring code uncopyrightable. However, technically the Federal Circuit’s copyrightability decision hasn’t been affirmed either.

[…]

There’s plenty of people out there now who are celebrating today’s Supreme Court decision as promoting innovation, competition, and openness. In reality, the net effect will be the opposite. When Sun created Java, they allowed everyone to make and publish apps for it. Sun adopted a dual-licensing model under which you could either get Java under the GPL free software license or take a commercial license. Sun is history--it was acquired by Oracle. The next company contemplating the development of a comparable platform will look at what happened in Oracle v. Google. Against that background, it may either be discouraged from making the investment in the first place--or it may be encouraged to pursue an Apple-like platform business model (“walled garden”) and create network effects through a non-open system with cloud components, an exclusive app store, and so forth. In other words, if you can’t own software, you’ll try to own (access to) users.

Jesper:

The ruling managed to find its way to a reasonable outcome, but if these are the tools used to chisel fundamental conditions for developers, companies and people the world over, we are all in bad shape for the future.

John McCall:

Yes, I think this decision does strongly imply that the GNU position that linking a library can be controlled by copyright is incorrect

Previously:

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