Oracle Appeals Google Verdict, Fights 'Software Exceptionalism' - InformationWeek

InformationWeek is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Software // Operating Systems
01:54 PM
Connect Directly

Oracle Appeals Google Verdict, Fights 'Software Exceptionalism'

Oracle tries to undo Google's successful defense of Android by claiming that software code is no different than literary text in matters of copyright.

In an effort to revive its copyright claim against Google and its Android mobile operating system, Oracle this week filed an appeal with United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

Oracle is seeking to overturn U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup's determination that programming APIs are not subject to copyright protection. The company is not appealing its unsuccessful patent infringement claim. Oracle has maintained that the "structure, sequence and organization" of its Java APIs are protected under copyright law. But Judge Alsup last year ruled otherwise.

"So long as the specific code used to implement a method is different, anyone is free under the Copyright Act to write his or her own code to carry out exactly the same function or specification of any methods used in the Java API," Alsup wrote in his ruling. "It does not matter that the declaration or method header lines are identical. … Duplication of the command structure is necessary for interoperability."

[ Want some background? Read Google Beats Oracle Patent Claim. ]

Prior to his ruling, the Court of Justice of the European Union said as much in a separate case when it found that neither the functionality of a computer program nor the format of its data files qualify for copyright protection.

Oracle disagrees that the functional nature of code makes it different from literary text. Its filing asserts, "This notion of software exceptionalism for any code is wrong." And it contends, "Interoperability is irrelevant to copyrightability."

Google declined to comment. But groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation that have sided with Google on this issue contend that interoperability cannot be ignored. "Treating APIs as copyrightable would have a profound negative impact on interoperability, and, therefore, innovation," EFF attorney Julie Samuels wrote in a blog post last May.

To support Oracles position, the more than two dozen attorneys listed on the company's appeal have constructed a fictitious character, Ann Droid, who copies liberally from actual author J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix to produce a hypothetical knockoff that gets her sued for copyright infringement. The justification that Ann Droid offers is that she wrote most of the words herself and that what copying she did was necessary to appeal to the Harry Potter fan base.

"Defendant Google Inc. has copied a blockbuster literary work just as surely, and as improperly, as Ann Droid -- and has offered the same defenses," the filing claims.

Groklaw, a popular legal analysis blog that has consistently been skeptical of Oracle's position, finds the analogy wanting. "Software is not a novel," Groklaw states. "The copyright rules are not identical. Duh. And that's not an accurate or fair description of what Google did."

Google has until March 28 to file a reply.

We welcome your comments on this topic on our social media channels, or [contact us directly] with questions about the site.
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
2/15/2013 | 12:19:36 AM
re: Oracle Appeals Google Verdict, Fights 'Software Exceptionalism'
All those lawyers, and they best argument they can come up with is that software code is identical to literary text? The problem I see is not software exceptionalism but copyright absolutism.
Deirdre Blake
Deirdre Blake,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/14/2013 | 4:24:51 PM
re: Oracle Appeals Google Verdict, Fights 'Software Exceptionalism'
You are precisely correct, and we most definitely don't want a world void of incremental improvement -- particularly when it comes to programming interfaces -- which is why Oracle will lose again.
User Rank: Strategist
2/14/2013 | 10:45:31 AM
re: Oracle Appeals Google Verdict, Fights 'Software Exceptionalism'
While a clever argument, the simple truth is, software IS different from a Novel. To claim otherwise is to cut us off from incremental improvements. The claim serves to remove from our culture the value of competition.

To claim that improvement in a class of product can ONLY come from radically NEW ways of doing things is ludicrous. It means that improvements in efficiency can only come from the original owner of a product, who, if a product has any economic value, may not feel a need to make a product more efficient for it to sell well.

Under these rules, the first automobile tire manufacturer who put rubber treads on a tire would be able to stop another tire manufacturer from inventing and placing a new tread design into the market that might be safer or more fuel efficient.

And George Foreman would be able to stop another manufacturer from inventing a similar electric grill but with the advantage of a removable ridged grill plate that can be replaced with a flat grill plate for cooking eggs.

A Novel is different because the value of a JK rowling story lies not in the magic or in the words used, but in the very newness of the story itself. Look up the meaning of the word "Novel".

That is the logical extension of Oracle's claim. Clearly, tire tread design and grill plate design are intellectual property. Do we want a world where incremental improvement is illegal?
Think Like a Chief Innovation Officer and Get Work Done
Joao-Pierre S. Ruth, Senior Writer,  10/13/2020
10 Trends Accelerating Edge Computing
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek,  10/8/2020
Northwestern Mutual CIO: Riding Out the Pandemic
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor, Enterprise Apps,  10/7/2020
White Papers
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
Current Issue
[Special Report] Edge Computing: An IT Platform for the New Enterprise
Edge computing is poised to make a major splash within the next generation of corporate IT architectures. Here's what you need to know!
Flash Poll