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1 big thing: Trump administration backs Oracle in Google fight

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, Axios' Margaret Harding McGill reports.

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 Oracle.

  • 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.

Go deeper:

2. Google exec turned Senate candidate talks tech

Ross LaJeunesse. Photo: Ross for Maine

Ross LaJeunesse, the former Google executive running for a Senate seat in Maine, is laying out his plan for regulating tech.

Why it matters: The former Google executive made headlines earlier this year when he detailed his exit from the company. Now he is hoping to parlay his tech know-how into a Senate seat.

"We don't have people in Congress who even understand the basics around tech, let alone how to make sure everyone benefits," LaJeunesse said in an interview. "It's crazy."

LaJeunesse's 10-point tech agenda covers a range of issues, including:

  • Passing strong national privacy legislation that lets consumers be compensated for the use of their data or use internet services without sharing their data at all.
  • Helping prepare American workers for the impacts of AI and automation. "We are facing a tsunami of job disruption," he said, and Congress is sticking its head in the sand. "I almost feel it's criminal."
  • Enacting broad net neutrality protections.

To highlight one pressing tech issue — so-called deepfakes — LaJeunesse's campaign created a video showing Susan Collins voting to convict Trump on impeachment. (She voted to acquit.) Congress, he says, has taken no action on deepfakes and not done enough to protect elections more broadly.

  • The dig at Collins serves another purpose, as LaJeunesse is one of four Democrats competing to unseat the incumbent senator.

Expanding access to high-speed Internet, LaJeunesse says, is the top item on his list.

  • When he and his husband moved back to Maine, he recalls, it wasn't easy to find a house.
  • "We had to be very careful where we moved," he says — not because he was worried about finding a gay-friendly neighborhood, but rather, he had to find one with fast enough internet for his husband to telecommute.

What's next: LaJeunesse is hoping to get to Washington, of course. But even if he doesn't get the Democratic nomination, he plans to work to elect whomever does.

"I am going to support that person 100%," he said. "We really need to retire Susan Collins."

3. EU stakes out positions on data, AI

The European Commission released long-awaited position papers Wednesday on several key digital issues, including how to treat the continent's digital data and how best to regulate artificial intelligence.

Why it matters: Europe has traditionally trailed the U.S. in creating giant tech companies that gobble up consumer data, but it has led in issuing rules and policies to govern such practices.

The European Data Strategy and the AI recommendations have themes will be familiar.

  • As has long been the case, the EU is hoping to offer broader protection to its citizens while also fostering a more competitive European tech ecosystem.

What they're saying: Not surprisingly, many trade groups released statements praising the goals of the proposals, while urging restraint in regulation.

  • Guido Lobrano, ITI's VP for European policy: "For Europe to fully realize its tech leadership potential, it should take a collaborative approach to regulation and avoid prescriptive policies that could stifle innovation in emerging areas like artificial intelligence."
  • Thomas Boué, director general of BSA — The Software Alliance: "Today's strategies help set a clear path forward for companies, governments, and citizens to benefit from responsible, software-powered technologies across Europe. ... The upcoming broad consultations will be key to building trust and ensuring that new rules on data-driven technologies are transparent, fair, and fit for purpose."

Meanwhile: Cornell business professor Thomas Jungbauer argues the proposals aren't what's needed to help Europe catch up.

  • "Network effects and technological factors are responsible for many of the markets in the tech and sharing economy to be 'winner-takes-most' scenarios, that is markets in which a big firm dominates with other smaller players serving niche needs."

What's next: The tech giants all have a new decision to make: How to treat the data of users in the U.K., post-Brexit. Reuters reports that Google is likely to move U.K. customers to U.S. rules, thereby avoiding Europe's stricter data protections and heavier consequences for violations.

4. Google releases developer version of Android 11

Image: Google

Google released an earlier-than-expected test version of Android 11, offering developers a glimpse of what to expect in the final release later this year. Among the changes in the early code are improved support for 5G and foldable devices, as well as more granular security protections.

The big picture: Once upon a time, Google waited until its spring I/O developer conference to share code for the next version of Android, but has been moving the release earlier in recent years to give developers more time to prepare for the under-the-hood changes.

One key feature is the ability to give apps one-time permissions for access to things like location, microphone or camera. (Apple added the ability to grant one-time location access in the latest version of iOS.)

What's next: This release is only aimed at developers and Google typically holds back some of the key consumer-facing features for its I/O developer conference. Expect the eye candy and public beta versions in the coming months.

5. Take Note

On Tap

Trading Places

ICYMI

  • How Saudi Arabia Infiltrated Twitter. (BuzzFeed News)
  • RIP Larry Tesler, who created "cut, copy and paste." (Gizmodo)
  • The Equal Employment Commission has launched an investigation into Google over pregnancy discrimination allegations. (CNBC)
  • Massive MGM data breach: Guests' personal details posted on hacking site. (Axios)
6. After you Login

I'm not encouraging anyone to be a jewel thief. But, if you are going to pursue that career, be better than these guys.