Googol, an unfathomable number. Oracle, one acting as a medium through whom advice or prophecy was sought. Titan, one that is gigantic in size or power. The passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whose wisdom and leadership as Supreme Court Justice shattered glass ceilings, is undeniably tragic in a number of ways. Not only, because it augments uncertainty for the Supreme Court’s new term, based on political and social concerns, but, also, for the entire copyright system. While the “Notorious R.B.G.” is more famous for being a staunch advocate for gender equality and women’s rights, Justice Ginsburg has also ardently been the voice of pro-copyright law during her tenure as Associate Justice.
On October 7, 2020, the Supreme Court will begin to hear oral arguments for the copyright case of the century, Google LLC v. Oracle America Inc. The argument first arose in 2011 regarding Oracle’s Java programming language – application programming interfaces (“APIs”), which Google used within the early versions of their Android operating system. In the first bout of litigation, Oracle prevailed by establishing their APIs were copyright protected, in which the Supreme Court denied Google’s writ for certiorari. In the second bout of litigation, Google argued copyright does not extend to software interfaces such as APIs and their use of Java’s API fell within the fair use doctrine. In April, 2019, the Solicitor General was asked to file an amicus brief and the Trump administration supported Oracle’s position, while IBM, Microsoft, and the Internet Association supported Google, with the opinion that the outcome has such weighty consequences for the innovation of software development.
If the Supreme Court affirms the Federal Circuit decision, all software developers would be forced to pay for a license, to utilize Java codes, or be forced to write codes that do not utilize Java’s API. Thus, not only would this affect the interoperability of software applications, but it would also potentially increase the cost of software for consumers to accommodate developer’s costs for licensure, additional research and development fees. Conversely, if the Supreme Court reverses the Federal Circuit decision, the scope of copyright protections will be significantly narrowed, thereby limiting the rights of software developers.