Update (2:30 p.m.): The jury decided that Google did infringe on Oracle's copyright but couldn't make up their minds over whether or not it broke the law in doing so. Google has already moved for a mistrial.
Original Post: For the average computer user, it's easy to overlook the fact that giant corporations own the rights to the source code that makes the machine perform even the simplest task. And in an era where software patent battles are becoming commonplace, the Silicon Valley giants are willing to duke it out in the courtroom over just a few lines of code. Oracle is currently awaiting the jury's verdict in a case that accuses Google of copyright violations in Android software that mimics Java's Application Programming Interface (API). Thanks to its 2010 purchase of Sun Microsystems, Oracle owns Java and could win a settlement worth up to a billion dollars. All this over nine lines of code.
The consequences of the case aren't as geeky as you might think. APIs make up the ether connecting all the different pieces of the cloud, and if the court rules that APIs can be copyrighted, experts say that the future of cloud computing could be in serious jeopardy. Traditionally, APIs have been open source tools for developers building software that will run in the cloud. Requiring copyright permission for each and every API would clog up the innovation process. "If APIs can be copy-protected, that would be incredibly destructive to the Internet as a whole for so many different reasons," George Reese, chief technology officer at the cloud management services company enStratus, told Wired.
A court in the European Union cited this reasoning in ruling last week that APIs can't be copyrighted. "To accept that the functionality of a computer program can be protected by copyright would amount to making it possible to monopolise ideas, to the detriment of technological progress and industrial development," it said in the decision for a case between the SAS Institute Inc. and World Programming Ltd. Lawyers with the Electronic Frontier Foundation said in response to that ruling that United States laws reflected the same reality. Nevertheless, Google and Oracle are stuck spending resources in an attempt to rewrite these laws -- or rather, reinterpret them. Again, expert this it's just a tremendous waste of money. "In this case alone, Google and Oracle each will likely spend tens of millions of dollars (and that’s before any potential damages are levied)," said the EFF's Julie Samuels, "money that could and should be used for further innovation and growth."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.