Copyright protections may seem mundane and restrictive to some, but safeguards against the theft of one’s ideas are a foundational pillar of freedom in America and one of the main reasons why our country has grown into the world’s unmatched economic superpower.
Our Founding Fathers felt so strongly about copyright protections, they enshrined them within our Constitution.
In a document that generally limits government power, the framers of the constitution explicitly empowered Congress to protect the intellectual property (IP) of our nation’s inventors and authors.
Article I, Section 8 reads: “Congress shall have Power … To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”
This one clause has helped establish the United States as the engine of innovation that has driven many of the technological, economic, and medical advances for the entire world. The simple act of allowing those who innovate to profit from their creations has brought about untold innovation and creativity over the last 200 years.
Unfortunately, an ongoing lawsuit involving Google, America’s dominant search engine company, and Oracle, one of the largest database and cloud-computing providers in the country, threatens to undermine this most fundamental of personal liberties.
On November 15, 2019, the Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments for Google’s long-running copyright lawsuit, Google LLC v. Oracle America Inc.
The suit extends back nearly a decade. In 2010, Oracle sued Google after the search engine giant allegedly copied a large section of proprietary code from Oracle’s Java platform.
Oracle has argued that the code’s alleged replication constituted a clear violation of copyright law. Google claims certain code shouldn’t be subject to intellectual property protections. Instead, they argue its implementation falls under “fair use,” a limited exception to a copyright holder’s exclusive rights for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research. Therein lies the problem.
If the Supreme Court were to side with Google on the “fair use” question in this case, veritable chaos would likely ensue. To rule in favor of the search engine company, SCOTUS would essentially be admitting that certain digital information, even when encoding well-known platforms like Java, isn’t subject to the legal protections afforded to other intellectual property. Such a ruling would no doubt open an entirely new can of worms, thrusting America’s system of copyright protections into a severe state of flux.
Established precedent on the nature of intellectual property would be thrown into question. Once-settled litigations will likely be reopened like old wounds. A plethora of new lawsuits would presumably be filed to resolve the myriad unintended consequences that the Supreme Court’s ruling would cause.
In the meantime, many businesses and individuals alike will in all likelihood push the boundaries created by SCOTUS’ decision. Emboldened by the ruling, unscrupulous actors may seek to profit by copying and manipulating copyrighted software for their own ends. The lower courts would be forced to pick up the pieces, figuring out what constitutes “fair use” copying and what does not. But even then, it would take a long time to sort the innumerable instances of potential copyright violation under the new set of rules. For years, the court system will likely be in a state of paralysis, while the software industry would practically revert back to the Wild West.
In short, without robust protections against the misuse, manipulation, or copying of IP, Americans’ right to property — a fundamental component of liberty — begins to erode. Unfortunately, if the Supreme Court rules in favor of Google in this case, that is exactly what could happen. The safeguards protecting digital information could be dismantled, threatening to undermine the very provisions that made America so economically strong.
Protecting our inventors is a job that falls on several branches of government. While Congress has a duty to pass laws that protect IP and the wealth that flows from it, the judicial branch must correctly interpret and also prevent the misuse of IP laws.
For the sake of our constitutional liberties, let’s hope they get it right.
Travis Korson is a veteran of politics with years of experience in campaigns, communications, and public policy. He previously served in the Bush White House and has also spent time at various conservative organizations and government institutions including the Heritage Foundation, Americans for Prosperity, and the Faith and Freedom Coalition. He is a graduate of the George Washington University where he studied International Affairs with a focus on International Economics. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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