Conservative advocacy groups are jumping into a battle between two Silicon Valley tech giants that is heading to the Supreme Court, siding with Oracle in its copyright infringement suit against Google.
The decade-long battle revolves around ownership of computer code that Google used to build its mobile Android software, which Oracle says has made Google billions of dollars at Oracle’s expense. But the Supreme Court skirmish is fast becoming the latest clash in a proxy war fought by conservatives concerned about Big Tech.
With oral arguments scheduled for next month, two influential conservative advocacy groups are wading into the muddy waters of intellectual property to take aim at Google. The American Conservative Union, which organizes the Conservative Political Action Conference, and the right-leaning Internet Accountability Project have filed briefs recently attacking Google.
The American Conservative Union Foundation’s brief notes that the property rights being fought over in the case are of crucial importance to one its policy centers.
“Google and many of its amici seek to upend this well-ordered system of private property rights in software through either an unworkably complex, nearly metaphysical, interpretation of copyrightability of software, or a broad ‘fair use’ exemption, both based on some conjured up ‘special status’ as players in the software industry,” lawyers for the ACU Foundation wrote. “Their position is that, in the Wild, Wild, West of software development, it is common — indeed, industry practice — to copy without a license other people’s code so long as it is ‘functional.’ This is wrong as a matter of industry practice, but even if true would be a distinction without a difference.”
The Internet Accountability Project brief filed Tuesday strikes a more political tone and notes that the organization’s mission is “to call attention to the economic and political harms caused by the activities of America’s dominant information technology companies, including Google” particularly about privacy, political bias and exploitative conduct.
“Google has appointed itself the world’s ‘organize[r]] of other people’s information … and in this case it copied verbatim substantial amounts of Oracle’s software to do so,” the brief argues. “IAP seeks to ensure that Google respects the copyrights of Oracle and other innovators in order to safeguard incentives to create and thus ‘promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts.’”
Google argues that it did not commit copyright infringement and that copyright protection does not extend to the computer code involved in the software used to build the platform. Dozens of tech companies have lined up in Google’s corner, including Microsoft, IBM and the Internet Association trade group. The libertarian-leaning R Street Institute also has filed a brief in support of Google’s cause.
Oracle’s advocacy muscle in Washington is rarely outdone by its larger tech competitors. The Redwood Shores, California, company spends more on lobbying as a proportion of its revenue than several of its competitors including Google, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of Center for Responsive Politics data, while Google spent more total dollars lobbying in 2019.
• Ryan Lovelace can be reached at email@example.com.
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