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The tech world cheers for Google’s Supreme Court win

Supreme Court

Good morning! This Tuesday, the tech world celebrates Google's Supreme Court win, Clarence Thomas has some out-there ideas about Section 230, and Facebook argues in favor of encryption.

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The Big Story

You can reimplement an API

It took 11 years, a lot of false starts and a PhD's worth of technical explanations, but the ruling on Google v. Oracle is in. And as Protocol | Enterprise's Tom Krazit writes, Google won in a big way.

Quick catch-up: Oracle initially sued Google for using parts of the Java interface in Android. Its argument was that APIs are a fundamentally creative thing, and thus should be copyrightable and illegal to reuse. It had won a ruling to that effect, before the case went to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court nixed Oracle's argument. "We reach the conclusion that in this case, where Google reimplemented a user interface, taking only what was needed to allow users to put their accrued talents to work in a new and transformative program, Google's copying of the Sun Java API was a fair use of that material as a matter of law," Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in the majority opinion.

  • In the end, the ruling actually wasn't about copyright, but instead said that even if APIs are copyrightable, allowing them to be remixed and reused is a good thing for the software industry. "Allowing enforcement here would make of the Sun Java API's declaring code a lock limiting the future creativity of new programs," Breyer wrote. "Oracle alone would hold the key."
  • Oracle could have gone after lots of other Java-using developers if it had won, Tom writes. And others might have been able to go after Oracle: It copied AWS's S3 API when it set up its own cloud storage service, for instance, which could have been a big problem had this case gone the other way.

Oracle is predictably upset with the ruling. Its response was less about the case and more a slap at Google in general. "They stole Java and spent a decade litigating as only a monopolist can," a spokesperson told Tom. "This behavior is exactly why regulatory authorities around the world and in the United States are examining Google's business practices."

But the rest of the tech industry loved the decision, even if they don't love Google. Mozilla called it "an important victory for software developers." Epic's Tim Sweeney tweeted that it was "a great Supreme Court ruling in favor of software interoperability and developer freedom!" Squarespace's Brian Fitzpatrick tweeted a picture of himself wearing a shirt that says "Protecting the internet from rent-seeking assclowns since 1998," which sums up the industry response about as well as anything I've seen.

More Supreme Court

Down with 230?

Issie Lapowsky writes: Last fall, Justice Clarence Thomas argued that it was time to rein in Section 230 immunity. Now, he has laid out an argument for why companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google should be regulated as utilities.

  • On Monday, the Supreme Court vacated a lower court ruling in finding that President Trump had acted unconstitutionally by blocking people on Twitter.
  • Justice Thomas agreed with the decision, but argued in his concurrence that, in fact, Twitter's recent ban of the @realDonaldTrump account suggests that platforms themselves, not the government officials on them, hold all the power.
  • He also suggested that some digital platforms are "sufficiently akin" to common carriers like telephone companies, and said Section 230 and the First Amendment are closely related.

Thomas drew attention to the market power of the platforms. "It changes nothing that these platforms are not the sole means for distributing speech or information," he wrote. "A person always could choose to avoid the toll bridge or train and instead swim the Charles River or hike the Oregon Trail. But in assessing whether a company exercises substantial market power, what matters is whether the alternatives are comparable. For many of today's digital platforms, nothing is."

  • He also argued that while private companies aren't subject to the First Amendment, common carriers are unique to other private businesses in that they do not have the "right to exclude." Thomas suggests that large tech platforms with substantial market power should be bound by the same restrictions.
  • "If the analogy between common carriers and digital platforms is correct, then an answer may arise for dissatisfied platform users who would appreciate not being blocked: laws that restrict the platform's right to exclude," he wrote.

Thomas acknowledged that it would be up to "a legislature" to impose such a restriction and that the Twitter blocking case before the court didn't offer an opportunity to grapple with those questions. But, he wrote, "We will soon have no choice but to address how our legal doctrines apply to highly concentrated, privately owned information infrastructure such as digital platforms."

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Technology has been the leading sector in trust since Edelman began its Trust Barometer 21 years ago. Since that time, trust in business has risen while trust in technology has declined – and this year, the decline has been dramatic. Join Edelman for a discussion with tech industry leaders on what's next for Tech & Trust in 2021. This event is moderated by Protocol.

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People Are Talking

Encryption is a fundamental necessity of the internet, Facebook's Will Cathcart wrote, and governments shouldn't take it away:

  • "It was never possible or easy to access most people's private conversations when they were happening physically instead of digitally. We should not assume that just because technology makes something easier to do, we should do it."

Knotel co-founder Amol Sarva is not happy with the direction of the company under its new owners, and let everyone know it:

  • "The process made clear to me that I would not choose to be part of the new owners' way of moving forward. Only to confirm that judgment, they have literally hired a group of Adam Neuman[n]–era WeWork bros to lead the company forward."

Who even cares about Facebook anymore, Tyler Winklevoss said:

  • "The idea of a centralized social network is just not going to exist five or 10 years in the future. There's a membrane or a chasm between the old world and this new crypto-native universe. And we're the conduit helping people transcend the offline into the online."

Yahoo Answers is shutting down, and Andy Baio said what we were all thinking:

  • "Yahoo's still out there doing what they do best: deleting an unimaginable amount of internet history with 30 days' notice."

Making Moves

Teresa Carlson is Splunk's new president and chief growth officer, joining from AWS.

Microsoft officially scheduled its Build conference for May 25-27. It'll be virtual again this year.

On Protocol: Google acquired Dysonics, a 3D audio startup. Lots of potential use in headphones and AR here.

SoftBank spent $2.8 billion on a 40% stake in AutoStore, a warehouse robotics company.

Byju's bought Aakash Educational Services for what's reported to be "close to $1 billion." Aakash runs physical tutoring centres across India.

Ron Johnson's Enjoy Technology is in talks to go public via a SPAC, Bloomberg reported. A deal would reportedly value the company around $1.6 billion.

In Other News

  • On Protocol: The National Labor Relations Board said Amazon illegally fired two worker-activists. Amazon has maintained that it fired them for repeatedly violating internal policies.
  • The U.S. is planning retaliatory tariffs on countries with digital taxes. The USTR proposed import tariffs on the U.K., Turkey, Spain, Italy, India and Austria that match the tax revenue those nations would receive from U.S. tech companies.
  • Don't miss this article on China's digital yuan plans from The Wall Street Journal. China appears to have plans beyond it being used domestically, which led former IMF staffer Josh Lipsky to call it a "national-security issue" for the U.S.
  • Facebook donated $50,000 to the Republican State Leadership Committee, 44 days after pledging to stop all PAC donations after the Capitol riot. RSLC co-chair John Merrill spoke at a "Stop the Steal" rally. Facebook said the money was to pay membership dues.
  • Google's ditching Oracle's finance software and moving to SAP instead. Wonder if Larry Ellison regrets saying "we don't partner with Google, because we're trying to compete with Google."
  • Clubhouse added in-app payments, allowing users to send money to creators. Clubhouse won't take a cut — for now, at least.
  • There's yet more evidence that 8kun admin Ron Watkins is Q. In HBO's "Q: Into the Storm" documentary, Watkins appeared to slip up and say he's Q — though he immediately backtracked on that.

One More Thing

Overly Attached Girlfriend

NFT of the day

Overly Attached Girlfriend was one of the great memes of yesteryear, and so it's not hard to figure why someone dropped 200 ETH (about $425,000) on the NFT that Laina Morris, the Overly Attached Girlfriend herself, put up for sale. The buyer? 3F Music, a Dubai-based music studio that also bought that New York Times NFT and countless other memes and artworks. Even that slightly terrifying emoji-Steve Jobs one.

Learn More

If technology has enabled us to stay connected during the pandemic, why are we trusting it so much less? According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, a big reason why is the fear that automation will lead to job loss – a concern accelerated by the pandemic.

Learn more and download Edelman's 2021 Trust in Technology report here.

Today's Source Code was written by David Pierce, with help from Anna Kramer and Shakeel Hashim. Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to david@protocol.com, or our tips line, tips@protocol.com. Enjoy your day, see you tomorrow.

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