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Google v. Oracle: The End of an Era - Software Freedom Law Center

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Legal

The Supreme Court?s April 3rd decision of the long-running dispute between Oracle and Google brings to a last victorious conclusion the free software movement?s legal campaign, which began more than thirty years ago. Though the Justices have only now resolved the issue of API copyright, it was among the first of the legal problems with which FSF and I dealt.

The heart of the free software movement?s long-term strategy was to harness the power of independent reinvention. Writing from scratch new programs that implemented both sides of all major software APIs was the technical pillar of our master plan. Licensing those programs on terms that protected the resulting commons?giving every user rights to study, copy, modify and share, with copyleft restriction on downstream licensing?was the legal pillar. The master plan of GNU was the independent reimplementation of both sides of all Unix APIs, thus allowing anything that could be done by general purpose computers to be done by software in which users had rights and free invention could flourish. When FSF and I started working together, in 1993, the Foundation?which was made possible by Richard Stallman?s 1990 MacArthur prize?was new, and the 1991 GPLv2 license brilliantly constructed for Stallman by Jerry Cohen was even newer. Gaining broad legal acceptance for GPLv2 and assessing the risk from the patenting of purely software inventions were immediate legal problems in need of my attention. But the threat posed by broad API copyright was the most urgent. The urgency arose because the issue was already headed for the US Supreme Court.

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