The Supreme Court justices appeared highly aware Wednesday that their decision in a copyright dispute between Google and Oracle could have far-reaching consequences for Silicon Valley, but after an hour and a half of arguments it was not clear which company’s dire warning they most seemed to believe.
Each of the court’s eight justices grilled attorneys representing Google and Oracle, as well as the U.S. deputy solicitor general, in a case that could upend the tech industry’s understanding of who owns small but essential chunks of code that allow different programs and platforms to connect.
Questions for Google: The justices lobbed some of their toughest questions at Google’s attorney, Tom Goldstein, scrutinizing his argument that Google copied code from Oracle because it had no other option. Google has asserted that the code is necessary for developers to create applications for its Android operating system and that these application programming interfaces, or APIs, are widely used without a license.
“Cracking the safe may be the only way to get the money that you want but that doesn’t mean you can do it,” Chief Justice John Roberts said.
Roberts added that when the code in question was first created by Sun Microsystems and later acquired by Oracle, there was more than one way to write it. He and several other justices surmised Google copied Oracle’s code because it was already popular with developers and more expedient than writings it own.
Justice Neil Gorsuch said, “The argument strikes me very much as, ‘I wish to share the facilities of a more successful rival because they’ve come up with a particularly elegant, or efficient, or successful highly adopted solution in the marketplace,’ and ride on their innovation.”
Questions for Oracle: Oracle’s attorney, Joshua Rosenkranz, pushed the idea that declaring it legal to copy