Google and Oracle copyright clash to be heard at Supreme Court

Android is used on the majority of smartphones worldwide
Android is used on the majority of smartphones worldwide - (Copyright PA Archive)
5:38am, Wed 07 Oct 2020
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Tech giants Google and Oracle will meet in a copyright dispute which is worth billions and important to the future of software development.

The case, before the US Supreme Court on Wednesday, relates to Google’s creation of the Android operating system now used on the vast majority of smartphones worldwide.

Google says that to create Android, which was released in 2007, it wrote millions of lines of new computer code, but it also used 11,330 lines of code and an organisation that is part of Oracle’s Java platform.

Google has defended its actions, saying what it did is long-settled, common practice in the industry, a practice that has been good for technical progress.

The case will be hear by the US Supreme Court - (Copyright AP)

But Oracle says Google “committed an egregious act of plagiarism” and sued, seeking more than 8 billion dollars (£6.2 billion).

The case has been going on for a decade, and Google won the first round when a trial court rejected Oracle’s copyright claim, but that ruling was overturned on appeal.

A jury then sided with Google, calling its copying “fair use” but an appeals court disagreed.

Because of the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, only eight justices are hearing the case, and it will be held by phone because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The questions for the court are whether the 1976 Copyright Act protects what Google copied, and, even if it does, whether what Google did is still permitted.

No-one’s ever claimed copyright over software interfaces, but that’s what Oracle is claiming now

Oracle, for its part, says the case is simple.

Oracle’s chief Washington lobbyist Ken Glueck said: “This case is about theft.”

He compared what Google did to plagiarising from someone else’s speech.

When you plagiarise one line from a speech, he said: “That’s a plagiarised speech. Nobody says, ‘Oh, well, it was just one line.’”

But Google’s Kent Walker, the company’s chief legal officer, said in an interview Google wrote “every line of code we possibly could ourselves”.

“No-one’s ever claimed copyright over software interfaces, but that’s what Oracle is claiming now,” he said.

Microsoft, IBM and major internet and tech industry lobbying groups have weighed in in favour of Google.

The Trump administration, the Motion Picture Association and the Recording Industry Association of America are among those supporting Oracle.

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