A multiyear copyright battle between two tech giants could bring drastic change in 2018 to a software industry that’s used to creating compatible products by freely copying computer code.
The question before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit is whether Alphabet Inc.’s Google infringed Oracle America Corp.’s copyright by copying bits of code, known as APIs, from Oracle’s Java programming language in developing Android, or whether that was a fair use under copyright law.
APIs are bits of programming code that refer to larger sections of code that are frequently reused. Reimplementation of APIs allow devices or programs made by different entities to work together, the way most keyboards can be used with most computers.
“Software developers for many, many decades now have assumed that APIs are freely reusable,” Bloomberg Law legal editor Anandashankar Mazumdar said in a recent episode of Code & Conduit.
But those developers might need to start obtaining licenses, or find a different way of making software products, if the court rules that Google’s copying was not fair use, Mazumdar said.
“That’s going to throw up into the air for a lot of software developers whether what they’ve been doing to create products that work with other products is legitimate,” he said. “Their worry is that if we’re no longer allowed to do this, this makes software development more difficult, especially if we’re creating something that’s supposed to interoperate with some other existing thing.”
Oracle and some software creators, though, argue that a Google win would leave them with less control over new uses of their copyrighted works.
The Federal Circuit could rule, probably in the first half of the year, or send the case back to a lower court for more evidence. The case could eventually make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, but that would take several more years.
You can read more reporting about intellectual property law on our tech, telecom and internet blog or on Bloomberg Law. If you liked what you heard in the podcast, sign up for a free trial of Bloomberg BNA’s legal and regulatory news and content.
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