Software copyright dispute leads to Supreme Court petition

Glenn W. Peterson

Copyright disputes in California can be difficult to resolve. There are often legitimate questions as to who originated a particular work, whether a work is derivative, whether the information is so basic that copyright does not apply or whether the use of copyrighted material was fair. As digital technologies are still emerging and evolving, the courts sometimes seem to have trouble keeping up with how existing intellectual property laws apply to their continuing development.

Technology companies Google and Oracle have been involved in a copyright dispute that dates back approximately eight years. At issue is Google’s Android smartphone and the code used to create it. Google claims that the application programming interfaces are ineligible for copyright because they are too basic. On the other hand, Oracle alleges that Google’s use of Java APIs in the development of the device represented improper use of its intellectual property and first accused Google of violating copyright law in 2010.

Since that time, the two companies have been in and out of court many times. Over much of the last decade, each has had wins and losses during the course of several rulings and two jury trials. Google recently filed a petition with the United States Supreme Court to hear the case and issue a definitive ruling once and for all. This is the second time that Google has petitioned the Supreme Court to hear the case; the first petition was in 2014, which the Court rejected.

Google claims that the case has sheer practical importance to the future of software and that new issues are at play since the 2014 petition. Oracle alleges that Google’s concern is financial gain from the unfettered ability to copy the original work of others and that Google is rehashing arguments that have already been thoroughly discredited.

Whether the Supreme Court decides to hear the case or not, it does go to show that copyright disputes can be both complicated and drawn out over a number of years, and those involved in such a dispute may wish to engage the services of an experienced copyright attorney.