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Billion Dollar Code

Two German friends visualize the concept of zooming into any spot on the earth like a bird, and develop TerraVision. Brian Anderson steals this idea and helps create Google Earth. The TerrraVision creators take on Google Earth for stealing their algorithm.

The Billion Dollar Code (Netflix Television series)

Genre: Drama/Thriller

Director: Robert Thalheim 

Screen Writer: Oliver Zeigenbalg 

We are all familiar with Google Earth. Probably all of us have taken a virtual tour of our childhood homes or exotic locales, thanks to Google Earth. During the pandemic, my husband and I had drawn up a travel itinerary and would spend our Sundays happily visiting places and sites on our list through Google Earth. But who developed this concept of using satellite imagery to draw up a 3D representation of Earth? Who wrote the code? I’m sure most of us don't have answers to these questions.

The Billion Dollar Code, a 2021 German Television series on Netflix does not answer these questions either. But it adds an element of mystery and suspense to the origin of Google Earth. And a dollop of cyber-crime. This 4-episode Television series is based on true events. Art+Com, a German software company sued Google in 2014, claiming that the code from their product Terra Vision was used to create Google Earth. A lot of us might simply skip the series, believing that the subject matter was too heavy or technical and would therefore not make for interesting viewing. But we would be wrong in making such an assumption. A lot of us might recollect films of this ilk like The Social Network  or The Silicon Valley  and shake our head in negation, "not another of the over-the-top dramatic but somewhat skewed representations of real events".  But The Billion Dollar Code is different.

The Billion Dollar Code is an extremely gripping script with a sensational court drama thrown in for good measure and an understated rhythm with replicates real life.The story begins with a middle-aged Carsten Schluter(Mark Waschke) and Juri Muller (Misel Maticevic) telling their Attorney Lea Hauswirth (Lavinia Wilson) about how they created Terra Vision and how they believe the code used for Terra Vision has been replicated in Google Earth. The story unravels slowly. A graphic artist and a hacker meet up in Berlin in the early 1990s and come up with the concept of a 3D representation of Earth. They manage to convince Deutsche Telekon to invest in their project and take the project to the Kyoto Conference in 1994 where it becomes a resounding success. During a visit to the Silicon Valley, Juri, the programmer, is feted and offered a job. In fact, one night, in a bout of drunken expansiveness, he explains the details of Terra Vision’s code to Brian Anderson, a programmer and the owner of the software company that has offered him a job. At Carsten’s behest, Juri ultimately spurns the offer and goes back to Berlin to seek investors for their company and project. But their thinking is so ahead of their times that no company or organization is ready to put money on their project. Meanwhile, Brian Anderson, in response to a letter written by Juri, offers the duo a deal with Google Earth and seeks documentation and patents pertaining to TerraVision. He famously states that "without TerraVision there would be no Google Earth." However, this offer is not pursued and lapses. Defeated and frustrated, Carsten and Juri split and follow their own solitary paths. And then 10 years later in 2005, Google Earth is launched. Seeing their TerraVision concept come alive on Google Earth, Carsten and Juri re-unite and take Google to court for patent infringement.

The Court room scenes give the viewer a ring-side view of the 2017 Delaware deposition of Juri and Carsten as well as of the various experts brought in by Google’s arrogant Attorney, Eric Spears, as well as Lea Hauswirth. This becomes a David Goliath battle that Juri and Carsten lose to the Google behemoth. And yet, the viewer does not doubt their claim. "Had there been no Terra Vision, there would have been no Google Earth", says the trailer and we believe it. A gripping script, a nuanced presentation of the true events, fleshing out of characters as humans with their own flaws and weaknesses, a mature troupe of actors, flawless cinematography et al. What is there to not like in the series? A tale well told. Worth watching.

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