President Trump last month opined on perhaps the most important intellectual property lawsuit of the last 100 years: Google v. Oracle. The case, scheduled for oral arguments before the Supreme Court on March 24, tracks a trend that has become all-too-popular among big tech companies like Google—the theft of intellectual property (IP). But in submitting his administration’s own amicus brief to the Supreme Court, President Trump once again stood as stalwart for the rule of law—issuing both a strong defense of intellectual property and a withering rebuke of Google.
Nearly 10 years ago, following a failed licensing negotiation to acquire the rights to the software program Java, Google copied substantial portions of Java’s declarative code. The search engine company then used that code to create Android, the operating system now used on a majority of the world’s mobile phones. The problem, of course, is that Java was a copyrighted program, and Google’s “replication” of its code constituted what appears to have been a clear violation of intellectual property law.
The theft was so apparent that Oracle, the owner of Java, sued Google for copyright infringement and pursued damages exceeding $8.8 billion. Soon, the high court will decide whether to hold Google accountable for its actions.
But this case is about more than just one instance of copyright infringement from nearly a decade ago. Rather, a ruling in Google v. Oracle will establish a clear trend for the future of digital intellectual property—will copyright law protect software from theft, or not?
President Trump understands the lawsuit’s ramifications all too well. If Google prevails at the level of the Supreme Court, it will have succeeded in codifying the theft of digital intellectual property into the American Justice System. That result would be disastrous.
Of course, Google will have managed to avoid consequences for its theft of Java’s code. But more than that, such a Supreme Court ruling would establish a precedent for other Big Tech companies to commit abuses moving forward. Ultimately, a verdict in favor of Google will obliterate competition within the tech sphere and beyond, as large companies would become incentivized to steal their smaller competitors’ code, rather than innovate themselves. As a result, Big Tech will have the opportunity to grow even bigger, eliminating their competitors through neglecting their private property.
That’s why, in filing its amicus brief to the Supreme Court, the Trump administration offered its unequivocal opposition to Google’s theft. In its nearly 40 pages of argument, the administration’s affidavit lays bare the flaws in Google’s case.
First, the brief restates the nature of intellectual property protections. “The Copyright Act makes clear that computer code may be copyrighted.” Despite Google’s claims to the contrary, law, and precedent on the issue of copyright clearly support Oracle’s stance that Java’s declarative code should be granted all the protections afforded to intellectual property.
Then, the brief dismantles Google’s assertion that Java’s code shouldn’t be copyrightable—specifically because the code is segregated into short, “constituent components”: “By analogy, the opening of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities is nothing but a string of short phrases. Yet no one could contend that this portion of Dickens’ work is unworthy of copyright protection.”
Clearly, Google is holding Java to unrealistically high standards for copyrightability, and the Trump Administration is wise to point that out.
In doing so, Trump joined his voice to a choir of industry professionals, experts, and nonprofits seeking to defend IP from Google’s seemingly endless assault. And among those voices, the president found an unlikely ally: Former President Barack Obama.
In 2015, the Obama Administration filed its own amicus brief in favor of Oracle. In it, the Democratic administration presented both a condemnation of Google’s actions and a staunch defense of Oracle’s intellectual property rights. It’s a perspective with which the Trump Administration wholeheartedly agrees—and that’s vital.
After all, it’s hard to find two recent presidential administrations more dissimilar than those of President Trump and former President Obama. In many ways, Donald Trump’s “America First” policies are a direct rebuke of Barack Obama’s “lead from behind” mode of governing. Yet, despite the tremendous differences in the style, tenor, and approach toward leadership, the two administrations have found common ground on one crucial position—Google’s intellectual property theft must be stopped.
The fact that both administrations—placing aside their clear partisan differences—have come together to defend Oracle’s IP rights should speak volumes about the case.
Google v. Oracle is a lawsuit that transcends politics. Both Obama and Trump recognized the danger that a ruling in favor of Google would pose for the United States. It would essentially allow Google to rewrite intellectual property law to fit its own whims. That type of assault on America’s fundamental institutions cannot be tolerated.
When it comes to Google v. Oracle, the Trump Administration is entirely correct to defend intellectual property rights. And this time, Trump isn’t standing alone.