The Supreme Court hears Oracle v. Google tomorrow—here’s what’s at stake

Google CEO Sundar Pichai.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai. (credit: Sam Churchill)

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Oracle v. Google, a landmark case that considers whether application-programming interfaces can be protected by copyright. We first published this article about the case in early 2019, when Google asked the Supreme Court to consider the case. It has been edited to reflect the fact that oral arguments are this week.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in one of the decade's most significant software copyright decisions: the 2018 ruling by an appeals court that Google infringed Oracle's copyrights when Google created an independent implementation of the Java programming language. More broadly, the case could decide the copyright status of application-programming interfaces, with huge implications for the software industry.

An application-programming interface is the glue that holds complex software systems together. Until 2014, it was widely assumed that no one could use copyright law to restrict APIs' use—a view that promoted software interoperability.

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