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Oracle v. Google, and the end of programming as we know it

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols | May 17, 2016
The courts ruled that APIs can be copyrighted. That was bad. Now, if APIs can’t be used with fair use, that will be even worse.

Oracle, of course, doesn’t have a smartphone operating system. What it does have are lawyers.

Legally, deciding fair use involves four equally weighted factors. These are: whether the use was commercial; the kind of work that was copied; how much was copied and how substantive it was; and the impact that the copying had on the market for the original. I don’t think much of Oracle’s chances. Oracle’s only hope is that Android’s commercial success will persuade the jury that Google is in the wrong.

If programmers made up the jury, Oracle wouldn’t stand a chance. They know that APIs should be open or at least freely usable under fair use. But instead of programmers, clueless users who can’t tell an API from an Apple iPhone will be making the decision.

Software development’s present and future lie in the hands of the ignorant. As the tech writer Sarah Jeong put it, “The problem with Oracle v. Google is that everyone actually affected by the case knows what an API is, but the whole affair is being decided by people who don’t.”

Exactly. And that’s scary as hell.

Let’s hope they get it right. If they don’t, the world of software development is in for a world of hurt.


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