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Supremes Pass on Google v. Oracle

The Supreme Court has decided not to hear Google's challenge of a lower court decision that copyright protects all elements of computer software so long as the code could be written in more than one way.

That came Monday in its list of appeals the court declined to take up in its next session.

The issue centered on whether Oracle, which wrote the source code, could copyright Java application and programming interfaces (APIs), according to an Electronic Frontier Foundation summary, which was an amicus brief on Google's side. When Google implemented the Android operating system, it wrote a version of Java that allowed other developers to write their own programs.

Oracle claimed copyright protection of the APIs Google used. A Northern California district judge ruled the APIs were not copyrightable, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit reversed that decision -- though it also said that while copyright applied, Google might have some defense under the fair use exception.

In its petition for cert, which the Supreme Court has just denied, Google argued that the decision that the APIs were copyrightable could adversely impact cloud computing, innovation and an open Internet.

Public Knowledge, which advocates for fair use, was disappointed in the Supremes' decision, but said that was hardly the end of the story.

“We are disappointed in the Supreme Court’s decision to not hear this case," Charles Duan, director of Public Knowledge's Patent Reform Project, said. "The law is clearly contrary to what the Federal Circuit decided.

“However, this is not the end of the road for this case -- the Federal Circuit decision explicitly left open the possibility that the kinds of uses Google made were permissible under copyright’s fair use doctrine. Furthermore, the Federal Circuit’s decision is only one of several decisions on this question of ability to copyright programming interfaces. Many of these other decisions came to different results.Thus, the value of the Federal Circuit’s holding for future cases is sharply limited.

Justice Samuel Alito took no part in the decision, which could mean he owns stock in one or the other of the two companies, or just about anything else since the Justices never have to explain their reasoning for not participating in a particular case.

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.