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What Oracle v. Google Means for GPUs

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on June 07, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

What does the recent ruling in Oracle v. Google mean for the future GPL/GNUs? If we're lucky, and if wide Internet opinion is correct, it means more of the status quo -- and that's a good thing if you're an open-source community developer.

For a case that's worth billions of dollars, the jury's special verdict sheet looks awfully innocuous.

It's the Code That Makes the Difference

Although lines of code are subject to copyright protection, the functioning purpose of one company's Application Programming Interface (API) may be mimicked by another person so long as the code itself is different.

APIs themselves are written in one of the variety of user source-code languages out there, but their primary purpose (ostensibly) is to allow proprietary user-interfaced interpretability. In plain English, the whole point of an API is to facilitate the communication between one user through a program or app and another data set. Think Google and Apple, or Twitter and Facebook. Although the code is used to make an API, there is no other way for supposedly competing programs to communicate with one another.

"Duplication Is Necessary"

And this was the conclusion that Judge Alsup essentially came to in his opinion that reversed the court that was immediately beneath his. APIs are not copyrightable objects, he said, because they're primarily functional -- designed to facilitate communication between systems -- and not creative (though we're sure this logic can only be stretched so far).

Judge Alsup made a distinction between the instructions of interface represented by APIs and the language itself -- the latter of which can be copyrighted while the former cannot. How does one get around the fact that code can be copyrighted in order to execute a particular task? That's easy: after all, there's more than one way to skin a cat. In this case, that means: different coding styles.

Oracle had argued that about nine lines of code in the offending API-violation out of 15 million needed to be extirpated. But to do so would render Android users on an island away from Oracle -- or rather, the other way around. "In order to declare a particular functionality, the language demands that the method declaration take a particular form," Alsup said. In fact, his position somewhat echoes the concerns that Europe's top court had when it declared that APIs ought not to be copyrightable for fears of "monopoliz[ation] of ideas."

Oracle's lawyer didn't care much for the decision, obviously, and released her opinion of the opinion.

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