Blind As A Bat: Oracle, Catz and the Heavyside Lawyer
“Are you blind when you’re born? Can you see in the dark? Dare you look at a king? Would you sit on his throne? Can you say of your bite that it’s worse than your bark? Are you cock of the walk when you’re walking alone?”“How to interview for culture fit” by Larry Ellison (aka “Li’l Yachty”)
In a filing accepted by the US Supreme Court this week (or at least, not explicitly rejected, probably because it was passed out upstairs) Oracle claims that Google committed copyright infringement by using its Java programming APIs without permission.
These APIs, the claim suggests, enabled Google to essentially build its entire Android and mobile ecosystems with pirated IP from Oracle, a company whose flagship HCM products are not actually yet optimized for mobile devices.
A lower court agreed, setting up a Supreme Court showdown whose outcome will have big implications for HR tech and recruiting; it’s already being called “The Trial of the Century,” although which century seems to largely rest on the outcome of this precedent setting case, coming soon to SCOTUS dockets near you.
You probably haven’t thought much about APIs before, but pretty much every ATS, HCM, sourcing tool or HR Technology product out there requires these to function. APIs are what make it possible to apply for jobs with LinkedIn or Indeed, or see which sources of hire applicants are coming from, or to move new hire data from an ATS to an HCM. They’re stacked deep in every talent tech stack, and have become embedded into pretty much all of our processes and platforms, period.
Google claims that Oracle’s defense of the APIs as intellectual property is irrelevant, “because they represent an idea or a method – similar to a math formula, which can’t be copyrighted.” One assumes that presumably, this doesn’t include AdWords, which is, you know, a math formula – as are all algorithms.
Here’s the thing: if Oracle wins, then they get a $9B settlement from Google, and you get the precedent that every time you use an API for anything without permission, you’re stealing from the owner of the “work” (which is normally a third party developer, anyways). This means that not only will innovation suffer, but so too will the future of talent technology.
The HR Tech industry is thriving because APIs enable third party providers to augment and enhance core products with additional features and functionalities, rather than rely on obsolete, outdated, on-premise legacy systems.
Microsoft, interestingly, is siding with Google, as is pretty much everyone in both the tech industry as well as academia. In fact, pretty much the only advocate of Oracle’s position is the US Government – which, of course, would never let business interests determine its priorities and has nothing to do with the fact Larry Ellison just this week played host to Trump at a private fundraising dinner with tickets starting at $500k a head, causing 34k Oracle employees to stage what they’re referring to as a walkout, or what their product team normally calls “scrums.”
The “trial of the century” will rest on a bunch of octogenarian judges weighing in on whether or not application programming interfaces are a violation of the fair use doctrine, so whatever the final decision may be, at least it will be as well informed as an acquittal without witness testimony.
My favorite quote is from Oracle’s general counsel, one Dorian Daley, who appeared from a cloud of sulfuric smoke to say: “It’s such utter nonsense. Nothing is going to change.”
That’s not only the scary part, it’s a brand promise Oracle has consistently delivered on. Little Yachty could not be reached for immediate comment.