The $9.3B Oracle v. Google Case May Change Software Development

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If you're involved in or following the tech world, especially if you happen to code for a living, you're likely following the Google v. Oracle case pretty closely. Even though Google is dropping Oracle's Java code in Android going forward, possible retroactive damages and the implications of the case are set to be huge. While the first round ended in a judge saying that APIs allow interoperability and cannot be copy-written, an appeals court ruled in Oracle's favor, saying that an API, like any other creative work, is protected by applicable law and must be evaluated under the normal fair use guidelines in order to be used without the API creator's permission. Round two of the case is going to center around that decision; in essence, it will center around whether or not using an API you didn't create without contacting the creator for permission could present legal liability. Naturally, an outcome in favor of protecting APIs could very well change the landscape of software programming in its entirety.

The stakes are plenty high for Google, as well; Oracle is looking for an incredible $9.3 billion in damages, based on expert's calculations of how much using Java APIs in Android has made them over the years and how much of that should have been royalties paid to Oracle, if considered at normal rates. The judge's instructions for the jury essentially say that they will have to consider how necessary Google's use of the Java APIs were in the way Android was built. While Oracle will, if the API protections are upheld and bolstered, likely say that Google had no right to use their work and got paid for not doing much of anything, Google could shoot back by saying that their use of the Java APIs fall under fair use and are just the sort of innovation that fair use and related laws are meant to protect and encourage.

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With the focus of the case shifting from whether APIs are protected to the definition and applications of fair use, the implications for the software world are quite clear; the concept of fair use itself could be literally decimated. This could open the door for API creators in an industry to sue competition into the ground, as well as completely stifle ground-level and open-source development. With the threat of being sued into closing their doors, small and mid-level software houses will be more inclined to expend the extra cost and manpower to create their own APIs, and of course copyright them, lest others steal the APIs, copyright them themselves and turn around and sue the creators. Likewise, individual developers will face much longer development cycles to create their own APIs from scratch, or face the possibility of being sued into financial ruin by the creators of the APIs they use. It would be no stretch to say that the outcome of this case could completely change the landscape of the software development world.