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Google Again Looks To Supreme Court To Intervene In Java Lawsuit With Oracle

The epic legal battle over whether application programming interfaces can be copyrighted is going into its ninth year. Both sides argue there are massive industry repercussions at stake.

Google is again looking to the nation's highest court to help settle its long-running dispute with Oracle over use of Java APIs to build its Android mobile operating system.

In its request for review, Google argued the question of how copyright law applies to software interfaces is unsettled, and of vital importance to the industry.

"The lower courts are badly in need of guidance on how to apply the fair-use doctrine in the context of computer code," Google said in its petition to the U.S. Supreme court.

If previous legal rulings are allowed to stand, those rulings "will upend the longstanding expectation of software developers that they are free to use existing software interfaces to build new computer programs."

That will "undermine both competition and innovation," Google claimed.

[Related: AWS Rips Oracle's JEDI Cloud Bid Protest In New Court Filing]

The copyright battle initiated in 2010 has seen a dizzying number of twists and turns, but currently stands in Oracle's favor.

Google enjoyed a short-lived win in May of 2016 when a federal jury in San Francisco ruled it didn't infringe on Oracle's intellectual property when building Android.

Oracle appealed, and last year a circuit court reversed the jury's decision. The case was subsequently remanded for another trial only to determine how much money Google owed Oracle in unpaid copyright royalties.

Oracle initially sought $9 billion when it filed the lawsuit in 2010.

"Google's petition for certioari presents a rehash of arguments that have already been thoughtfully and thoroughly discredited," Dorian Daley, Oracle's general counsel, told CRN in a prepared statement.

"The fabricated concern about innovation hides Google's true concern: that it be allowed the unfettered ability to copy the original and valuable work of others for substantial financial gain. In major victories for software innovation, the Court of Appeals has twice sided with Oracle against Google. The Supreme Court should once again deny Google’s request to take the case."

If the case feels like it's retreading over familiar ground, that's because the latest petition is not the first time Google has tried to take the case to the high court.

In 2015, Oracle scored a big win when the Supreme Court declined to hear Google's appeal of a previous lower court ruling. The Obama administration, through a letter from the U.S. Solicitor General, advised the Supreme Court to not intervene in the case.

Google has steadily maintained its use of Java falls under fair use protections and that Oracle shouldn't be able to copyright Java's application programming interfaces (APIs).

The most-recent court decision disagreed with that position—the appellate judges ruled the fair-use provision that allows some copyrighted material to be used without paying royalties didn't apply.

Earlier in the case, a federal judge ruled that Java's APIs couldn't be copyrighted at all, absolving Google of any liability before the case was even presented to a jury. A circuit judge then reversed the lower court and sent the case back for trial.

Sun Microsystems, the developer of Java, released the programming language under a free software license in 2007. Oracle acquired Sun in 2010.

The case has divided the tech community.

Hewlett-Packard, Red Hat and Yahoo came out on Google's side in 2015, all petitioning the Supreme Court to review the case. They argued it would be tougher for them to do business if APIs could be copyrighted.

Microsoft aligned itself with Oracle during earlier stages of the case, rejecting the idea that limits could be set on what aspects of software were acceptable to copyright.

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