Brief of Amicus Curiae Interdisciplinary Research Team on Programmer Creativity Addressing Expressions and Ideas
30 Pages Posted: 19 Mar 2020
Date Written: February 13, 2020
Google v. Oracle is a case involving the meaning of a copyright in computer software. The trial determined that Google copied many thousands of lines of code that had been written by Oracle. The code that was taken defined the existence of specific computing functions, determining which of two number is the larger one, as an example. Although Google did take these definitions, its programmers re-wrote the code that was needed to perform the function. Once taken, the code was used by Google to create (and then sell) the Android system for cell phones.
The first major issue in the case is understanding what owning a copyright in computer software means. All agree that a copyright only protects an “expression” and does not protect any underlying ideas. The first dispute is whether the defining code is an expression or an idea. The second issue in the case is the meaning of the “fair use” defense where copying is allowed even though the copyright exists. Here, the main question is whether allowing computer programs to be written in a way that favors easy interoperability constitutes fair use.
The brief submitted by the team of researchers based at U.Mass. Dartmouth and U.Mass. Lowell and written by Professor Clifford of the U.Mass. Law School only address the first issue. It argues that the declaring code that was taken is clearly expressive based on the Team’s research findings that there is significant variation of expression shown in all computer programs, even the most basic.
Keywords: copyright, computer software, computer program, creativity, expression, idea
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