More than a decade ago, Google re-implemented the Java programming language as part of its new Android mobile operating system. Oracle, the owner of Java, then sued Google for copyright infringement in 2010. Later this month, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in this epic copyright case that will have huge implications for the entire software industry—and that could cost Google billions of dollars.
Google says it has done nothing wrong. Copyright law specifically excludes “systems” and “methods of operation” from copyright protection. Google argues that the aspects of Java it copied—function names, argument types, and so forth—fit squarely into these exceptions. Google also argues that copyright’s fair use doctrine allows for this kind of copying.
The case is being closely watched by the software industry. Companies like Microsoft and IBM have warned that Oracle’s stance could create chaos for the industry. They argue that making this kind of copying illegal would not only create legal headaches for a lot of software companies—it would be bad for customers, too.