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Briefing Continues in “Copyright Case of the Decade”

· April 12, 2019

DisCo’s ongoing coverage of the long-running Oracle v. Google case continues, as this week Google filed its reply brief, responding to arguments made in Oracle’s recent opposition brief.

Oracle’s Opposition Brief

Oracle’s opposition brief, filed at the end of March, responds to Google’s original petition urging the Supreme Court to take the case.  Oracle continued its inaccurate but successful analogizing of the Java implementing code to the fictional Harry Potter series.  Additionally, it describes Java developers as Oracle’s ‘fan base.’ This misleading analogy misrepresents what the Java case is all about: the functional nature of the work at issue, and what should be the appropriate scope of copyright protection in that highly functional work.

Oracle’s brief also continues its strategy of confusing what is the “work” at issue.  Oracle would prefer that the “work” was merely the structure and organization of the Java API, but that is not a separate work from Java, and is in fact a small part of a much larger work.  By muddling this matter, however, Oracle suggests that Google Android used much more of the Java API than it actually did, and implies that a decision in Google’s favor would render entire programs unprotected.

Google’s Reply Brief

Google’s reply brief proclaims that “[t]his is the copyright case of the decade.”  The brief goes on to reaffirm that the Court should hear the case because of the “grave harm to software development” resulting from the Federal Circuit’s two rulings, citing a variety of amici representing computer scientists, software innovators, and developers.  Responding to Oracle’s claims about a lack of evidence of “devastation” since the Court declined to hear the case in 2015, Google explained that the law had not been settled regarding whether reuse of software interfaces was lawful under fair use, but last year’s holding is now “regarded by the industry as definitive, triggering an outpouring of support for this Court’s intervention.”  The brief then quotes amicus Red Hat, on the many stakeholders affected:

“The Federal Circuit’s rulings have inflicted uncertainty on the development of software; on the design of connected devices, features, and services; and programs and devices that interact with other programs. Anxious eyes from all corners of the globe await the outcome of this case.”

Google’s brief adds that the Court has often elected to hear copyright cases without there being a difference of opinion among federal appellate courts — a common indicator of when cases are granted certiorari.  Finally, Google catalogues the numerous ways in which the Federal Circuit’s two opinions in the case conflict with Supreme Court precedent and basic legal principles of copyrightability and fair use.

Next Steps

According to the Supreme Court docket, the brief has been distributed for conference on April 26, which is also the date that amicus briefs in support of Oracle would be due.  The Court may then decide to call for the views of the Solicitor General again.

Intellectual Property

The Internet enables the free exchange of ideas and content that, in turn, promote creativity, commerce, and innovation. However, a balanced approach to copyright, trademarks, and patents is critical to this creative and entrepreneurial spirit the Internet has fostered. Consequently, it is our belief that the intellectual property system should encourage innovation, while not impeding new business models and open-source developments.