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The Supreme Court justices appeared highly aware Wednesday that their decision in a copyright dispute between Google and Oracle could have far-reaching consequences for Silicon Valley, but after an hour and a half of arguments it was not clear which company’s dire warning they most seemed to believe.

Each of the court’s eight justices grilled attorneys representing Google and Oracle, as well as the U.S. deputy solicitor general, in a case that could upend the tech industry’s understanding of who owns small but essential chunks of code that allow different programs and platforms to connect.

Questions for Google: The justices lobbed some of their toughest questions at Google’s attorney, Tom Goldstein, scrutinizing his argument that Google copied code from Oracle because it had no other option. Google has asserted that the code is necessary for developers to create applications for its Android operating system and that these application programming interfaces,

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US Supreme Court justices peppered lawyers for Google and Oracle with questions on computer code and copyright Wednesday in a court clash which could have major ramifications for the technology sector and digital innovation.

Oral arguments were heard in a decade-old legal battle between the two Silicon Valley giants stemming from Oracle’s claim that Google illegally copied parts of the Java programming language to develop its Android mobile operating system.

The case revolves around whether copyright protection should be extended to application software interfaces (APIs), or bit of code that allow programs and apps to work together, and if so, whether Google’s implementation was a “fair use” of copyrighted material.

In the court session held remotely, Google attorney Thomas Goldstein argued that the practice of reusing software interfaces “is critical to modern interoperable computer software” and allows developers “to write millions of creative applications that are used by more than

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Google will defend itself against Oracle’s charge that it stole code to build its Android operating system before the Supreme Court on Wednesday — and Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s absence may be pivotal in a ruling that could shake up Silicon Valley’s business model.

The case is one of the first to be heard by the now 8-member court and Ginsberg’s death likely means one less vote in Oracle’s favor, legal scholars say. It also creates the possibility the remaining justices could split and leave the tech world in limbo on a crucial issue — who controls code that underpins much of modern technology.

“We need a decisive majority opinion in this case to settle critical copyright issues going forward in the digital age, and, without Ginsburg, we may not get it,” said Ralph Oman, the former register of copyrights under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

The Google-Oracle case

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