White House backs Oracle in Google code fight

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White House backs Oracle in Google code fight

Should Java be copyrighted?

The Obama administration has sided against Google and said the United States Supreme Court should not hear the the company's appeal in a long-running case against Oracle over fees for the use of Java code.

The case hinges on how much copyright protection Oracle can claim over parts of the Java programming language that Google uses to develop its Android mobile operating system.

Oracle is demanding US$1 billion in damages over Google's use of Java, claiming the search giant did not ask for permission to use its application programming interfaces (APIs).

Google successfully argued APIs cannot be copyrighted in a 2012 case, but the ruling was later overturned by a federal appeals court that said Oracle could copyright parts of Java.

Google continues to argue that it should be able to use Java without paying a licensing fee to Oracle, and recently appealed the decision to the US Supreme Court.

As the federal US government has expressed strong interest in the case, the Supreme Court asked the Obama administration in January for its opinion on whether it should take hear the appeal.

According to Google, an Oracle victory would obstruct "an enormous amount of innovation" because software developers would not be able to freely build on each others' work. Oracle said effective copyright protection is the key to software innovation.

In the court filing today, US solicitor general Donald Verrilli said Google's argument that the code was not entitled to copyright protection lacked merit and did not need to be reviewed by the Supreme Court.

Verrilli said Google had raised important concerns about the effect that enforcement of Oracle's copyright could have on software development.

However, those issues could be addressed via further proceedings on Google's separate "fair use" defence in San Francisco federal court, Verrilli added.

The Supreme Court could better assess the issues, Verrilli said, if it had all relevant legal arguments before it at the same time.

The Obama administration had been locked in internal wrangling over what position to take in the high-profile litigation between the two American technology companies.

Google has a close relationship with the Obama administration. However, there is no indication that the internal debate on software copyright involves any issues beyond legal policy.

Verilli is considered the Obama administration's top lawyer, and Supreme Court justices generally give greater weight to what a solicitor general says than other third parties that take a side in a case.

This influence has caused the solicitor general to be dubbed the "10th justice."

Despite Verrilli weighing on the matter, the Supreme Court, which is expected to decide whether to hear the case by the end of its term in June, could still allow the appeal although the chances are slim.

"We appreciate the solicitor general's careful review of this issue, however we're disappointed with these conclusions," Google said in a statement.

Oracle said it was "pleased" with the recommendation, which "affirms the importance of copyright protection as an incentive for software innovation."

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