For almost 10 years, Google and Oracle have been fighting over a set of Android APIs, and for almost that long, conventional wisdom has been that the tech industry is on Google’s side. But as the case moves to the Supreme Court for the second time, Oracle is taking aim at that idea — and calling out Google’s allies one by one.
After filing a Supreme Court statement last week, Oracle VP Ken Glueck posted a statement over the weekend assailing the motives of Microsoft, IBM, and the CCIA industry group, all of which have publicly supported Google.
Glueck’s post comes shortly after two groups — an interdisciplinary panel of academics and the American Conservative Union Foundation — submitted legal briefs supporting Oracle. Both groups argued that Google should be liable for copying code from the Java language for the Android operating system. The ACUF argued that protecting Oracle’s code “is fundamental to a well-ordered system of private property rights and indeed the rule of law itself.”
Google has argued that calling its work copyright infringement would hurt software interoperability, saying that it copied elements of Java to support Java developers building apps for Android. Earlier this year, it garnered around two dozen briefs supporting its position.
But Oracle claims that in reality, “Google appears to be virtually alone — at least among the technology community.” Glueck says Google’s most prominent backers had ulterior motives or “parochial agendas”; either they were working closely with Google, or they had their own designs on Java. Microsoft, for example, settled a Java-related lawsuit with some parallels to Google’s case. (That was, granted, nearly 20 years ago.) Oracle alleges that IBM simply wants easier access to Java after acquiring software company Red Hat. And Google is a prominent member of the CCIA.
Glueck also argues that these briefs don’t support Google as wholeheartedly as they seem. It cites Microsoft’s brief, for example, as only addressing one of Google’s two arguments for why its borrowing is legal. (That argument involves establishing Google’s actions as fair use, though, which would still be enough to get it off the hook.)
It’s not all that surprising if Microsoft and IBM are filing briefs because a ruling for Oracle could hurt their business, rather than because it offends their principles. Oracle takes things a step further and suggests that Microsoft is acting in outright bad faith, saying that it only started defending Google because of a 2015 partnership. Glueck notes that Microsoft was “once among Google’s strongest antagonists” as a point in Oracle’s favor, although it’s a somewhat ambiguous fact. Google has argued that having support from a major rival proves it’s got a point.
Even if you accept Oracle’s arguments wholeheartedly, there’s a long list of other Google backers from the tech community. Advocacy groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Center for Democracy and Technology signed on to amicus briefs last month, as did several prominent tech pioneers, including Linux creator Linus Torvalds and Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak. The CCIA brief was signed by the Internet Association, a trade group representing many of the biggest companies in Silicon Valley. Patreon, Reddit, Etsy, the Mozilla Corporation, and other midsized tech companies also backed a brief raising “fundamental concerns” about Oracle’s assertions.
Google disputed Oracle’s characterization of the filings. “A remarkable range of consumers, developers, computer scientists, and businesses agree that open software interfaces promote innovation and that no single company should be able to monopolize creativity by blocking software tools from working together,” responded Google spokesperson Jose Castaneda. “Openness and interoperability have helped developers create a variety of new products that consumers use to communicate, work, and play across different platforms.”
Either way, the two companies will face each other next month, when the Supreme Court hears oral arguments on March 24th.