Feb 20, 2020 - Technology

Trump administration backs Oracle in Google fight

Illustration of President Trump with the Oracle logo's "O" printed on his tie as if it were a pattern.

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo via The Washington Post.

The Trump administration is siding with Oracle in the database giant's dispute with Google before the Supreme Court — a move that comes as Oracle's founder hosts a high-dollar fundraiser for the president.

Why it matters: Billions of dollars — and, Google argues, the future of software innovation — are at stake as a long-running copyright dispute between the two giant companies heads to the Supreme Court next month.

Driving the news: The solicitor general's office weighed in Wednesday with a brief in support of the company.

  • The administration found Google's policy arguments are "unpersuasive" and argued software code is copyrightable. Google's "verbatim copying of (Oracle's) original computer code into a competing commercial product was not fair use."
  • The brief also rejected Google's arguments about interoperability, noting that Google "designed its Android platform in a manner that made it incompatible" with the Java platform.
    At an earlier stage in litigation, the Obama administration took a similar position, urging the Supreme Court not to accept Google's appeal.

The big picture: The Trump administration brief came Wednesday just as Oracle founder Larry Ellison opened a campaign fundraiser for President Donald Trump at his southern California estate. Tickets ran as much as $250,000, according to an invitation obtained by the Desert Sun.

  • News of the fundraiser prompted typically politically reserved Oracle employees to publicly call out Ellison, arguing the president does not reflect the company's values.
  • A Change.org petition asking Ellison to cancel the fundraiser, and pledging an employee walk-out Thursday if he didn't, had more than 6,000 signatures as of Wednesday.

Details: The News Media Alliance, the Motion Picture Association and the Internet Accountability Project — frequent Google foes — were among the organizations that also offered support for Oracle in Supreme Court briefs Wednesday.

  • Oracle argues Google illegally copied parts of its Java code for its Android software. Google claims the code was not copyrightable and was used fairly.
  • Both the News Media Alliance and the Motion Picture Association said Google is too broad in claiming fair use, denying makers and copyright holders proper compensation for material that ends up in Google products, such as snippets of stories that show up in Google News searches.
  • The Internet Accountability Project, launched in September by a collection of conservatives concerned about big tech companies' power, weighed in because of what the group argues is a pattern of Google stealing intellectual property.
  • "If Google's allowed to get away with this, then anyone with the resources can get away with it," said Rachel Bovard, a senior adviser to IAP, which does not disclose its funding sources.

The other side: Google previously secured support from IBM, Microsoft and smaller tech companies like Etsy and Reddit. The search giant argues an Oracle victory would upend the long-standing industry practice of re-using software interfaces that has led to the development of interoperable computer software.

  • “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," Google spokesperson Jose Castaneda said.

Yes, but: SAS Institute, a software company, argued in support of Oracle and told the court limiting copyright protections would deter investment in creating software.

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