‘Merger’ and Acquisition: Google’s Copyright Contortion to Excuse Copying
The Supreme Court is set to hear oral argument on October 7 from Oracle and Google in their long-running Java intellectual property case. The questions raised in Google v. Oracle go to the heart of the scope of copyright protection of all computer programs. I’ve already written about the flaws in Google’s primary argument, which tries to conflate the creative Java code it copied to make its Android mobile operating system more attractive to developers and speed it to market, with the function that code performs once run. Google’s second argument invokes a U.S. copyright law doctrine known as “merger,” which denies copyright to creative works if there’s only one or a very few ways to express a given idea. In those instances, the expression merges with the idea and as we know, ideas aren’t copyrightable. In this case, there are world-famous examples of platforms performing the same functionality as Java with different forms of expression, such as Apple’s and Microsoft’s. So, Google’s argument that it had no choice but to copy Java can only prevail if it can convince the Court to apply the merger doctrine with blinders on.