Oracle strikes back at Google in Supreme Court copyright case

Oracle has filed its response in an upcoming Supreme Court copyright battle. The company accuses Google of stealing code from its Java language, claiming (as it has for many years) that Google “committed an egregious act of plagiarism” by building support for Java into Android without officially licensing the language. The two rivals will argue their case before the Supreme Court on March 24th.

Google v. Oracle is the latest iteration of an almost decade-long fight, and it hinges on two basic questions: can you copyright the building blocks of a language like Java, and if you can, is borrowing that code for interoperability purposes fair use? Oracle claims “no” on both counts. It argues that Java was a complex and creative creation, Google copied it after failing to develop its own app ecosystem, and the resulting Android operating system undercut Java in a way that hurt its value.

“No company will make the enormous investment required to launch a groundbreaking work like Java SE if this Court declares that a competitor may copy it precisely because it is appealing,” reads the filing. Oracle also makes the somewhat sweeping claim that a Google victory would damage America’s ability to enforce copyright protections worldwide, since “we cannot credibly insist on strong protections abroad while abandoning them at home.”

Many major tech organizations and companies are standing behind Google in this case, warning that a win for Oracle would make it difficult to build interoperable software. Oracle argues that this notion is irrelevant because while Google made it easy for Java developers to build Android apps, Java and Android apps aren’t totally compatible. So “for all Google’s extolling the virtues of interoperability, it bears emphasis: Google admitted that it purposely made Android incompatible with Java.” (To reiterate, other companies do think there’s a threat here; IBM and Microsoft, among others, filed briefs supporting Google.)

Google has won two decisions in lower courts, and Oracle has gotten them overturned twice at an appellate level. If the Supreme Court lets that court’s latest decision stand, Oracle will be victorious — and Google will face undetermined damages.