Oracle America, Inc. v. Google, Inc.: The Only Nonliteral Aspects of Java APIs Protected Under Copyright Law Are the Ones Nobody Wants to Copy

Download Full Text PDF

In 1976, Congress revised the Copyright Act, extending protection to computer programs. The scope of this protection, however, has remained unclear. While all courts agree that source code is protected from direct copying, they disagree as to the extent of protection for nonliteral elements, such as the code’s structure, sequence, and organization. Oracle America, Inc. v. Google, Inc. is the latest case considering the issue and is consistent with a trend of decreased protection. Practically speaking, Oracle offers no protection for the nonliteral aspects of Oracle’s APIs. This weak level of protection results from computer programs’ functionality. Some might be tempted to extend the court’s reasoning to justify a more explicit distinction in copyright law, denying protection to the nonliteral elements of all computer programs. However, this conclusion would be contrary both to Oracle’s holding, which extends only to the APIs considered, and to the policy that the Copyright Act is designed to effectuate.

Jonathan Ambrose, Recent Development, Oracle America, Inc. v. Google, Inc.: The Only Nonliteral Aspects of Java APIs Protected Under Copyright Law Are the Ones Nobody Wants to Copy, 14 N.C. J.L. & Tech. On. 1 (2012), available at http://ncjolt.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/Fall_Ambrose_Final.pdf.

The North Carolina Journal of Law & Technology has adopted the Open Access Program, a part of the Scholar’s Copyright Project created by Science Commons. Authors designate the conditions under which their articles are licensed. By downloading articles, you agree to comply with the license terms specified. Click here to see a copy of our Publication Agreement. Please contact NC JOLT at info@ncjolt.org with permissions inquiries.