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Oracle says it is funding 'dark money' group that is fighting Big Tech


WHEN the Internet Accountability Project (IAP) popped up late last year and joined the growing crusade against Big Tech, the non-profit group refused to say who was financing it.

Now it turns out that at least one of its benefactors is Oracle Corp, which donated between US$25,000 and US$99,999 last year to the Internet project. The multinational computer technology corporation disclosed this in a new political-giving report posted on its website.

The group calls itself a conservative, non-profit promoting tougher privacy rules and stronger antitrust enforcement against the Internet giants.

The IAP financing is just one part of an aggressive (and sometimes secretive) battle Oracle has been waging against key rivals such as Amazon and Google. Oracle has been trying to unseat Amazon as the front-runner for a lucrative Pentagon cloud contract, which was awarded to Microsoft Corp in October.

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It has also been in a legal dispute with Google, claiming that the search-engine giant violated Oracle copyrights by including Java programming code in the Android phone.

This month, IAP filed an amicus brief supporting Oracle's position in the case. IAP said it wants to "ensure that Google respects the copyrights of Oracle and other innovators". The US Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the Google v. Oracle America case on March 24.

The Trump administration on Feb 19 urged the Supreme Court to reject Google's appeal in the case. Its brief appeared the same day that Larry Ellison, Oracle's co-founder and chairman, hosted a major fundraiser for President Donald Trump. (The US had previously backed Oracle as the case wound its way through the courts.)

Oracle's donations disclosure reveals that it contributed to at least four other groups that filed supportive briefs in the Supreme Court case.

Oracle and Amazon did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the Oracle disclosure. Google declined to comment.

IAP President Mike Davis said the group does not disclose its financial backers, but specified that Oracle did not fund its Supreme Court brief.

The Internet project was launched in September by Mr Davis and Rachel Bovard, both of whom used to be aides to Republican senators. The group aims to "lend a conservative voice to the calls for federal and state governments to rein in Big Tech before it is too late", said its website.

The IAP is a "social-welfare" organisation, meaning that it is not required to disclose donors as long as it does not spend more than half its money on campaign advertisements or activities to sway an election.

Among other policies, IAP supports curtailing the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which shields tech companies from liability for content posted by users. The clause saves tech firms from having to review content before publication online, and shields them from lawsuits involving problematic content.

In interviews and on social media, IAP has expressed support for proposals that tech companies lose this legal immunity unless they can prove to the Federal Trade Commission that they treat their content in a politically neutral manner.

Oracle claims Google owes it at least $8.8 billion for using the Java code without a licence. Google argues it was fair to use parts of the programming language to improve Android communications with other software.

The case has split Silicon Valley, pitting software makers who favour stronger copyright protections against companies that rely on others' code to produce innovations.

The IAP aside, Oracle has funded the Free and Fair Markets Initiative, a grassroots coalition of businesses and advocacy groups fighting for a better economy. BLOOMBERG

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