Google believes itself to be above U.S. copyright law. The tech giant is heading to the Supreme Court this year to defend itself in Google v. Oracle. The case centers on an intellectual property dispute between the company that once had the motto “don’t be evil” and the famed database and cloud computing firm.
Google, having failed to reach a licensing agreement with Oracle over the latter’s well-known Java program, decided to replicate a large section of Java’s code to use in its own mobile operating system. At the time, however, Google’s actions were in direct violation of Java’s existing copyright protections. In essence, Google copied a portion of Java, violating Oracle’s copyright claim to the intellectual property. Oracle sued, and now the Supreme Court will have to sort out liability.
Google’s lawyers argue copyright law doesn’t apply to the tech giant’s dubious practices. Google contends that copying Oracle’s programming code should be considered under the “fair use” exemption to copyright, allowing the company to avoid any backlash. Essentially, this would expand the fair use doctrine to include outright replication, a change Google claims would increase innovation within the industry.
In reality, strong intellectual property protections foster innovation rather than harm it. Google might claim that an expansive interpretation of “fair use” benefits society, but in truth, eroding copyright protections would only serve Google’s interests.
More than that, Google has argued that Oracle’s claim over the entirety of the Java program is unfair because it unduly restricts competition. If the Supreme Court were to strike down Oracle’s copyright, they insist, competitors would be free to use Java’s code, interoperability would increase, and the industry would be better off. In short, Google argues the high court should strip Oracle of its copyright to serve “the greater good.”
There’s only one problem: that’s not how it works in America.
America’s Founders didn’t establish a system of rights that could be infringed if the collective decided it beneficial take them away. Rather, the natural rights enumerated in the Constitution, including the protections provided to intellectual property, are meant to be immutable. Google may believe its replication of Java’s code is a net positive for the software industry. Even if that objectively were the case, Google still wouldn’t have the right to violate Oracle’s copyright protections.
Many liberals believe the Supreme Court should make judgments on behalf of this mythical greater good, a concept that really just means conforming to liberal dogmas. But the real purpose of the Supreme Court is to ask this fundamental question: Is this what the law and the Constitution intended?
The founders were clear about the subject of copyright. They outlined IP protections within the Constitution itself. In Article I, Section 8, the nation’s charter details that Congress has the power “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”
James Madison wrote at length on the subject. In Federalist 43, Madison touched on the clause’s inclusion within the Constitution, defending its importance.
“The utility of this power will scarcely be questioned,” he argued. “The copyright of authors has been solemnly adjudged, in Great Britain, to be a right of common law. The right to useful inventions seems with equal reason to belong to the inventors.” A copyright cannot simply be stripped away because Big Tech says it would be for the greater good.
Sadly, Google doesn’t respect the Founders’ intentions or the law. “Google’s leadership doesn’t care terribly much about precedent or law,” a top Google lawyer once revealed.
The tech giant is also hypocritical in its claim to stand up for free-market competition. The company does everything within its power to maintain a monopoly over the search engine market and a duopoly with Apple on the mobile phone market. Google aggressively opposes competition when it comes to its own business, yet pretends to care about this principle when it needs to defend its own copyright infringement.
While Google may do its best to argue that its copyright violation was for the greater good, that claim should fall on deaf ears. Google disingenuously deploys this argument to mask their dubious business practices. Copyright law still applies to the tech giant, and the company must face the music for its duplicity.