High court told to hear copyright case

Tech companies and advocacy groups are urging the Supreme Court to take up a legal battle over whether or not firms can copyright part of their programming commands.

The case comes down to whether or not Oracle has the ability to assert a copyright claim on commands that allow programs to communicate with each other, known as an application programming interface (API). APIs are integral to computer companies.

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Last May, an appeals court supported Oracle’s lawsuit against Google for using an Oracle API that controls some commands on the Java programming system. The ruling effectively determined that companies can assert a copyright over the computer commands.

In a friend-of-the-court brief on Friday, the Computer and Communications Industry Association — a major trade group that includes Google, Microsoft and Facebook — told the high court that granting copyrights for software applications would create “broad monopol[ies]” that “would have serious implications for consumer welfare,” since the company controlling the copyright could determine which other firms’ products were allowed to operate with it. 

“In short, in the computer industry, overly broad intellectual property protection directly restricts competition and innovation,” the trade group argued.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed a similar brief in support of Google on behalf of 77 prominent computer scientists.

The appeals court decision “upended decades of industry practice and threatens the basic principles upon which our technology sector was built,” argued the EFF

Consumer interest group Public Knowledge, meanwhile, likened a company’s API to the head of a screw, which anyone should be able to make a screwdriver to fit.

“Just as screws and screwdrivers require a common socket in order to work, software requires a common language — an application programming interface,” the group argued. 

The case, Google v. Oracle, is pending at the Supreme Court. A decision on whether or not the court will take it up is due in coming months.