The predecessor of Google Earth was German, and its creators sued the Americans for plagiarizing it: now Netflix has turned that story into a series
In 2014, Google received a lawsuit that had almost zero media coverage: a German study denounced the technology company for, allegedly, having plagiarized the code that Californians relied on to develop Google Earth. The story went practically unnoticed, even by German media, but now it has just been rescued from oblivion by Netflix, which has turned it into a four-part miniseries that delves into the miseries of Silicon Valley.
To go to the origin of this litigation we have to go back to the early 90s. In those years, the Berlin architecture studio Art + Com developed a project called Terravision which, conceived as a kind of work of art, rebuilt the planet earth through satellite images, aerial photographs, and various architectural and geographic data. The most interesting and novel thing about the application was that it was interactive and in 3D, since its promoters wanted users to have the feeling that they had moved to the selected place through their screens.
“Users can move freely and in real time on a photorealistic virtual earth. From the macro view of space to the micro view, they can virtually fly towards the surface of the earth: first continents, then cities and finally the architectural models of individual buildings in high resolution ”, points out Art + Com on its website.
The Art + Com project soon caught the attention of companies in the technology sector, and for its development it received funding from the innovation institute of the German telco Telekom. Finally, fIt was launched in 1994, 11 years before Google Earth.
After its launch, Art + Com continued to develop Terravision and present it to international technology fairs, while working on other projects, until in 2005 they were surprised by unpleasant news: Google, already a powerful multinational, had launched a tool that was very similar to that of the Germans.
From that moment, those responsible for the study began to explore the options they had to claim compensation from Google for having copied the idea. Apparently, in 2006 Art + Com would have met with Californians to negotiate the purchase of the patent, but the Americans would have made a very low offer that the Berliners rejected. Despite this, Google Earth continued to work.
Without compensation and feeling robbed, those responsible for Art + Com decided file a lawsuit against Google in 2014 for having based the development of its geographic tool on Terravision technology.
Spolier alert! If you want to see the series, we recommend not reading the next paragraph.
After a time of litigation, which is reflected very well in the miniseries, the Americans won the trial and the Germans returned to Berlin empty-handed.
The series, a fiction very close to reality
Several years after that trial, of which there is hardly any published information, screenwriter Oliver Ziegenbalg came across the story by chance and decided it was good material for creating a miniseries fictional. Under the name of ‘The billion dollar code’, it can be seen on Netflix since last October 7.
The series is, therefore, fiction, and not a documentary. However, the protagonists of the real story consider that, beyond the dramatization of some facts and characters for cinematographic reasons, the fundamental aspects of the litigation that appear on the tape are quite close to reality.
“For cinematic reasons, some details are omitted and others are simplified to make the complicated subject of software development understandable to all audiences. But the main aspects of the creation of the tool and the legal process, however, are quite close to the real facts“, Explains Art + Com in a statement.
Likewise, the German study emphasizes that “we do not participate in the production, although we are pleased with the film adaptation of the story, which illuminates a central aspect of our entity as designers, artists and developers ”.