Since 2010, tech juggernauts Google and Oracle have battled over copyright protections for software code. After Oracle acquired Sun Microsystems in 2010, it sued Google for copyright and patent infringement. Oracle claimed that Google had taken code from Java software, owned by Sun Microsystems and then Oracle, to use in its Android operating system. Google successfully defended the patent infringement case and initially appeared to prevail in the copyright case. Most lower courts ruled in its favor, refusing to provide copyright protection for basic elements of software code.
However, Oracle has won repeated victories in the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals. This court disagreed with the lower courts, ruling that copyright protection may cover application programming interface (API) packages. In other words, to use these packages, other companies would need to get a license from the software creator. The Federal Circuit also ruled that the fair use doctrine does not apply in this situation. Google and other tech companies, such as Microsoft, have argued that this decision would cripple the software industry. Since API packages allow developers to make software programs work together, shielding this basic code with copyright would prevent developers from creating new programs to complement existing platforms.
After the Federal Circuit ruled in favor of Oracle, Google appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. This fall, the Supreme Court announced that it will hear the case. Its decision will not only settle the protracted dispute between the two tech companies but also shape the future of the software industry.
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