Oracle America, Inc. v. Google Inc., Brief of Amici Curiae Intellectual Property Professors in Support of Defendant-Cross Appellant and Affirmance
39 Pages Posted: 1 Jun 2013
Date Written: May 30, 2013
Three fundamental errors undergird Oracle’s legal position on this appeal of a District Court ruling that the Java Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) at issue in this case are unprotectable by U.S. copyright law. First, Oracle takes an unduly narrow view of 17 U.S.C. § 102(b), which provides that “[i]n no case does copyright protection...extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied” in a protected work. Oracle tries to read the procedure/process/system/method of operation exclusions out of the statute by asserting that to take these exclusions seriously would undermine copyright protection for computer programs. But the legislative history of the Copyright Act of 1976 indicates that Congress was well aware that computer programs would instantiate numerous types of unprotectable processes and methods of operation. It added the § 102(b) exclusions to the statute with the specific intent of ensuring that copyright protection for programs would not be interpreted too broadly. It is a basic canon of statutory interpretation that courts must endeavor to give all words in a statute appropriate meaning. If Congress has decided that computer programs are copyrightable, but processes and methods they embody are not, then it is incumbent on courts to determine which processes and methods embodied in programs are outside the scope of copyright protection. After a full trial on the merits and consideration of numerous briefs, the District Court determined that the command structures of the Java APIs at issue in this case were methods that enabled program interoperability, and consistent with controlling Ninth Circuit decisions, ruled that these APIs were unprotectable methods under § 102(b).
A second fundamental error in Oracle’s legal position in this appeal is its overbroad understanding about the protectability of “structure, sequence and organization” (SSO) of computer programs. While some case law endorses the view that program SSO may in appropriate cases be within the scope of protection that copyright provides to programmers, courts and commentators have recognized that the SSO concept is too imprecise to be useful in software copyright cases. The main reason is because this concept does not help courts to make appropriate distinctions between protectable and unprotectable structural elements of programs. Procedures, processes, systems, and methods of operation, almost by definition, contribute to the structure and organization of works of authorship that may describe or embody them. But this does not make those elements protectable by copyright.
A third fundamental error in Oracle’s legal position lies in its mistaken understanding of the merger doctrine as applied to elements of computer programs that are essential to interoperability. Oracle wants to believe that as long as its engineers exhibited creativity in the design of the Java APIs and those engineers were not constrained in their choices about how to construct the APIs, the APIs are ab initio copyright-protectable expression. However, the case law is clear that when the design choices of subsequent programmers are constrained by the interface designs embodied in earlier programs, the merger doctrine applies to the reuse of elements necessary to achieving interoperability. All that subsequent programmers must do is to reimplement those elements in independently created code, as the District Court found that Google had done in this case.
Keywords: Oracle v. Google appeal, antitrust, copyright
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation