Oracle V Google API Copyright Case, Court Rulings Reviewed

In May 2014, the Court of Appeals of the Federal Circuit (CAFC) ruled in the Oracle v. Google hearing that Oracle's Java APIs are copyrightable. Pamela Samuelson, a professor of law and technology at Berkley, believes this verdict clashes with the software industry's history of free API code implementation and past court rulings.

A recurring point of tension within Oracle v. Google and other court precedents have been whether structure, sequence, and organization (SSO) can be subject under copyright law. This arises from conflicting interpretations of Section 102(b) of the U.S. copyright law which states:

“[i]n no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is…embodied in such work.”

Samuelson states that this stipulation on procedure has it's genesis in Baker v. Selden (1880), in which the Supreme Court ruled that a bookkeeping procedure's system of methods were excluded from copyright. The Sega v. Accolade (1992) case used an appellate court decision to support the notion that SSO was not copyrightable, with a court assertion that computer programs “contain many logical, structural, and visual display elements that are dictated by the function to be performed, by considerations of efficiency, or by external factors such as compatibility requirements and industry demands.” A very similar verdict based on the "utilitarian nature of programs" conflicting with the creativity normally required for copyright enforcement was reached in Computer Associates v. Altai (1992). 

Though these conditions have hisotircally been upheld within the software industry, a caviot is that SSO may be a protectable expression if multiple ways to accomplish programming objectives are present, a counter-argument used in Whelan Associates v. Jaslow Dental Lab (1986) and Oracle v. Google (2014).

Amicus curiae briefs urging the Supreme Court to review Oracle v. Google were recently submitted by Hewlett-Packard, Red Hat, Yahoo, and 77 computer scientists. The court is likely to decide whether or not to visit the case sometime in January or February 2015. Due to the case's significance, Samuelson believes that the Supreme Court will decide to hear the case.

Be sure to read the next Law article: Supreme Court Reviews Oracle v. Google Copyright Case

Original Article

Copyrightability of Java APIs revisited