Oracle vs. Google: Java Copyright Battle Centers On Supporters

As the decade-long fight over Google's use of Java APIs in building the Android mobile OS moves to the Supreme Court, Oracle's government affairs leader accuses Google's top lawyer of coercing support. Both sides aim to showcase amicus briefs in the groundbreaking copyright law case, including the U.S. governments backing of Oracle's position.


The battlefront in Oracle’s decade-long war against Google’s use of Java interfaces for building its Android mobile operating system has shifted to arguments about outside support for both companies’ positions.

As the U.S. Supreme Court gears up to hear the groundbreaking case, Oracle is showcasing a broad range of amicus briefs—including from the United States government —concurring with its position that Google illegally used Java code. At the same time, Oracle is knocking Google’s efforts to line up its own supporters.

Ken Glueck, Oracle’s executive vice president who leads government lobbying efforts, in a blog post Thursday accused Google’s top lawyer of strong-arming other entities to support its position that it didn’t commit copyright infringement.

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[Related: ‘Google Has A Problem’: Oracle Makes Pitch To Supreme Court In Android Case]

Oracle was “obligated to highlight the conduct” of Kent Walker, Google’s chief legal officer, Gleuck said, who in recent months has “led a coercion campaign against companies and organizations that were likely to file on Oracle’s behalf to persuade them to stay silent.”

Oracle is “aware” of more than six contacts Walker and his staff made to win amicus support, Gleuck said, without being more specific as to the nature of that outreach.

Google did not directly address the accusation against its top in-house lawyer. In a statement, Google spokesperson Jose Castaneda said: “A remarkable range of consumers, developers, computer scientists, and businesses agree that open software interfaces promote innovation and that no single company should be able to monopolize creativity by blocking software tools from working together. Openness and interoperability have helped developers create a variety of new products that consumers use to communicate, work, and play across different platforms.”

Castaneda called attention to the 26 amicus briefs filed in the case supporting Google’s position that it was in fair use compliance when it used Java APIs to build Android.

Those briefs include ones from Microsoft and IBM. In other recent blogs, Gleuck has challenged the sincerity of those companies’ support for Google, especially in light of Microsoft having reversed its position and IBM’s silence in earlier stages of the case. Both companies, he argued, have their own narrow interests in undermining Oracle’s ability to protect Java.

Among the more-than 30 amicus briefs on Oracle’s side, the U.S. Department of Justice filed one Wednesday claiming Google’s use of Java “harmed the market” for Oracle’s work. The U.S. Solicitor General is also backing Oracle’s claim of code theft.

Google argues “it was entitled to copy 11,330 lines of respondent’s declaring code because that code standing alone is not commercially valuable,” the DoJ amicus brief to the Supreme Court reads.

“If that approach were sound, a developer could steal half of another developer’s program and finish it herself, so long as the stolen half did not function on its own.”

The DoJ said that by Google’s own account, it copied Oracle-owned Java code to make Android a more appealing platform to Oracle’s “fans”.

Oracle has argued that with the infringement of protected code used to access Java development libraries, Google destroyed Oracle’s chances of competing in the smartphone market.

Oracle is asking the nation’s top court to preserve the ruling of an appellate court that found Google committed copyright infringement.

Those 11,330 lines of source code were meticulously and creatively crafted by developers at Sun Microsystems, which Oracle acquired in 2010, to deliver to developers one of the most popular application-building platforms in the industry’s history. The contested sections involve “intricate organization and relationships among the lines of code,” according to an Oracle brief filed last week.

That those “stolen” lines were part of APIs doesn’t change the fact that they are software protected by copyright statutes, Oracle said.

Google has repeatedly argued that Oracle’s claim that APIs fall under copyright protection could stymie innovation in the industry and have a chilling-effect on developers.

“Oracle’s position would undermine the practices that have helped developers build on existing technology and create new products,” according to Castaneda, the Google spokesperson.

“That’s why developers and businesses from across the tech industry have supported open software interfaces and opposed attempts to monopolize the creation of new applications,” Castaneda said.

Gleuck’s blog attacked Google’s business practices beyond the mobility market.

“Google’s business model is predicated on monetizing the content of others so its economic interests are correlated to weak intellectual property protection. And that is exactly why most members of the technology community declined to file briefs on Google’s behalf,” he said.

The more than 30 parties filing amicus briefs supporting Oracle represent copyright owners with a direct stake in the case.

The include software companies like Synopsys and SAS Institute, many trade groups representing news and music publishers, and USTelecom, which represents broadband providers.

Then there are briefs from former EMC CEO Joe Tucci and Scott McNealy, who once led Sun Microsystems, who were “contemporaneous witnesses to Google’s theft,” Gleuck said.