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White House sides with Oracle in fight with Google

White House sides with Oracle in fight with Google
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The Obama administration is siding with Oracle in its legal fight with Google over whether it can claim copyright protection for certain elements of the programming language Java.

The solicitor general said in a filing Tuesday that the Supreme Court should not hear Google’s appeal of an earlier ruling in Oracle’s favor.

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At issue in the case is whether Google violated Oracle’s copyright when it built its Android operating system for smartphones in a way that was meant to mimic Java, a language commonly used by coders, using the Java application programming interface (API).

Google argues that the elements of Java that were used are necessary if the operating system wanted to be able to communicate with Java software. The company says that the API should be seen as a “functional characteristic” of the work.

More broadly, Google’s supporters hold that if it is possible for companies to copyright their APIs, it will become much harder for developers to create programs that work together — potentially stifling innovation.

In its Tuesday filing, Solicitor General Donald Verrilli said that the ruling of a federal court that had reversed an initial decision for Google should stand. He did acknowledge that the company raised interesting points about what effect the case might have on software development — but said a lower court should consider them.

“Although petitioner has raised important concerns about the effects that enforcing respondent’s copyright could have on software development, those concerns are better addressed through petitioner’s fair-use defense, which will be considered on remand,” the filing says.

A Google spokesperson said that the company was “disappointed” in the Obama administration’s decision.

“While we're disappointed, we look forward to supporting the clear language of the law and defending the concepts of interoperability that have traditionally contributed to innovation in the software industry,” the spokesperson said.

Oracle hailed the filing.

“Oracle is pleased that the U.S. Solicitor General has recommended that the Supreme Court deny Google's cert petition," said company spokeswoman Deborah Hellinger. "In 2014 the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit unanimously rejected Google's arguments that software is entitled to less copyright protection than other original, creative works.  The Solicitor General's brief agrees with the Federal Circuit's decision and affirms the importance of copyright protection as an incentive for software innovation."

The Supreme Court asked the Obama administration to weigh in on the case because of the federal government’s interest in the proceedings.

The administration has reportedly been internally divided over the case, with some inside the White House arguing for Google’s position but other agencies pushing back against the company’s arguments.