Back in 2012, Oracle accused Google of infringing their copyright as the latter copied the structure, sequence, and organization of around 37 Java application programming interfaces aka APIs, into the Android operating system.
In response to Oracle’s claim, the Alphabet-owned search giant replied that an API functions quite similar to an alphabet or a grammar, and thus, they are fundamental elements required to create programs.
The fight went on for ten whole years. And now, at long last, on 5th April, the Supreme Court of United States aka SCOTUS has finally ruled that Google could legally use Oracle’s Java API code for building Android as APIs cannot be strictly copyrighted, and fair use must play its part.
The Supreme Court, in a 6-2 decision, said that “Google’s copying of the API to reimplement a user interface, taking only what was needed to allow users to put their accrued talents to work in a new and transformative program, constituted a fair use of that material.”
Take note here that this latest verdict overturned an earlier federal ruling which found Google’s Java API usage was, in fact, infringed Oracle’s copyright. Now, however, Google is completely free to use the Java APIs in Android. And more importantly, it is a bigger win for the entire software development industry because companies can no longer claim a hard copyright claim over APIs in general.
A few years ago, a Northern California U.S District Court Judge William Alsup, who was also a programmer, ruled in Google’s favour as well. Alsup said that an API is merely a ‘long hierarchy of over six thousand commands’ to carry out pre-assigned functions. And for that very reason, it cannot receive copyright protection.
Thus, one can say Oracle had been fighting a lost battle from day one itself. Historically, almost no other company has ever argued in favour of APIs being copyrighted because there isn’t anything intrinsically creative about them. Uri Sarid, the CTO of MuleSoft, a software integration company, several years ago, righty said that APIs work similarly like an ATM machine. Slide in the card. Punch the pin codes. Select the menu and expect cash in return. So, how exactly this ‘function’ can be copyrighted?
It can’t be, and this is something even Microsoft, which is no dear old friend of Google, agrees with as well.
In its amicus curiae SCOTUS filing, Microsoft stated that programmers tend to rely on ‘sharing, modifying and enhancing’ a piece of previously developed code to build new products and create newer functionalities. Therefore, copyrighting APIs will lead to compromising the process of efficient software development.
All in all, now that the Google vs Oracle debacle has finally wrapped up, both developers and software companies breathe a sigh of relief! We will keep you updated on all future developments. Until then, stay tuned.