An appeals court on Friday breathed new life into Oracle'sbig-money lawsuit against Google by ruling that software commands can becopyrighted just like classic books.A panel of three judges in the US Federal Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that atrial court erred last year by deciding Oracle application programming interfaces,referred to as APIs, are not entitled to the kind of copyright protection given toliterature.The panel maintained that it is bound to afford APIs protection under copyrightlaws "until either the Supreme Court or Congress tells us otherwise."Champions of Internet freedom decried the appeals court ruling as a threat toinnovation because it heralded an explosion in legal battles over softwarespreading beyond patents to copyrights in how code is written."We're disappointed—and worried," the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) said ina blog post about the appeals court decision."The implications of this decision are significant, and dangerous."- Unusual legal tactic -Oracle's challenge of Google in court over copyrights was an unusual tactic beingwatched intently in Silicon Valley."We are extremely pleased that the Federal Circuit denied Google's attempt todrastically limit copyright protection for computer code," Oracle general counselDorian Daley said in an email response to an AFP inquiry.
Daley depicted the appeals court decision as "a win for Oracle and the entiresoftware industry that relies on copyright protection to fuel innovation and ensurethat developers are rewarded for their breakthroughs."
The appeal stemmed from a trial in 2012 before US District Court Judge WilliamAlsup that ended Google being cleared of patent and copyright abuse chargesleveled California business software titan Oracle.Oracle argued that it held copyrights to how the APIs worked even if differentstrings of code were used to orchestrate the tasks.In the fast-paced land of Internet innovation, it has been common for softwarewriters to put their own spins on APIs that mini-programs use to "talk" to oneanother- Fair use -"When there is only one way to express an idea or function, then everyone is free todo so and no one can monopolize that expression," Alsup said in his ruling."So long as the specific code used to implement a method is different, anyone is freeunder the Copyright Act to write his or her own code to carry out exactly the samefunction or specification of any methods used in the Java API."The appellate judges disagreed on the point and sent the case back to Alsup.Google could appeal to the full appeals court panel and even pursue it to the USSupreme Court.Appeals judges indicated in their ruling that Google might prevail on the legalgrounds that "fair use" made it acceptable."Google can focus on asserting its fair use defense, and hope that fair use can onceagain bear the increasing burden of ensuring that copyright spurs, rather thanimpedes, innovation," the EFF said."We're confident that it can, but it shouldn't have to."Oracle accused Google of infringing on Java computer programming languagepatents and copyrights Oracle obtained when it bought Java inventor Sun
Microsystems in a $7.4 billion deal in 2009.Google denied the claims and said it believes mobile phone makers and other usersof its open-source Android operating system are entitled to use the Java technologyin dispute.
Google unveiled the free Android operating system two years before Oracle boughtSun.Oracle had been seeking billions of dollars in damages from Google based oncopyright and patent claims.The outcome of the trial left Oracle eligible for a relative pittance in damages basedjurors finding that it misused nine lines of Java code in Android in aninconsequential win for Oracle.