This article contains major spoilers for the ending of The Billion Dollar Code on Netflix.
The Billion Dollar Code is, at the core of things, a simple, classic story about David vs Goliath, about the little man taking on the system. Telling the ostensibly true story of TerraVision, a technology remarkably similar to Google Earth but developed over a decade prior by Carsten Schlüter (Leonard Schleicher) and Juri Müller (Marius Ahrendt) as an experimental art installation in post-reunification Berlin, the four-part limited series is an engaging mixture of truth and craft. But it works on the strength of one big, essential question: Can two dorks from Germany topple one of the biggest technology corporations in the world?Told across two timelines, the four episodes chronicle — using a present-day practice deposition as a framing device — how Carsten and Juri met in a techno club in 1993, secured funding from Deutsche Telekom to develop a prototype, and managed to get a working version of that prototype — with help from various hackers and artists from the Chaos Computer Club — to an international communications fair in Kyoto, Japan, in 1994. The technology, dubbed TerraVision, is a resounding success, and soon takes them to Silicon Valley, where they meet Brian Anderson (Lukas Loughran), whose acquiring of the source code proves to be the starting point of Google Earth, which emerges in 2005, 11 years later, seemingly working in exactly the same way.
In 2014, Carsten and Juri’s Berlin-based company ART+COM filed against Google for patent infringement, and it’s this court case that comprises the finale of The Billion Dollar Code. For those who don’t know the outcome of the lawsuit, the show does an admirable job of making it seem like justice will be on the side of the “heroes”, who are able to overcome a decade-and-a-half of not being on speaking terms, questionable histories with possible terrorist organizations, and crippling personal anxiety to give a truthful, compelling account of themselves before a jury of their peers.
And they lose anyway.
The Billion Dollar Code ending explained
The true injustice of The Billion Dollar Code is that it seems like their case is watertight. An expert witness who was granted privileged access to Google Earth’s source code — viewed on a lone terminal in a soundproofed little cell, like something out of Mission: Impossible — testified that the code was identical and that Google Earth infringed on the patent. Both Carsten and Juri gave strong accounts of themselves and their history on the stand. Juri’s association with the Chaos Computer Club was never brought up and could have been disproved if it was. It all comes down, in the end, to Brian Anderson, who takes the stand knowing he has betrayed a friend and looks for a moment like he might allow his guilt over that fact to compel him to be truthful. The show even indulges in an alternate reality in which he does, and ART+COM set a precedent for small businesses everywhere, that they can stand up against The Man and live to tell the tale. But the reality is that he lies. He lies about telling Juri back in the day that Google Earth couldn’t exist without TerraVision. And he plays to the jury’s sympathies by explaining how he nobly developed Google Earth to help repair a fractured world.
It’s a shame, really. And while the outcome was always inevitable, you’ll find yourself rooting for Carsten and Juri all throughout The Billion Dollar Code, and you’ll be crushed when things don’t go their way. Perhaps, though, this very show will at least shine a light on their story, their genius, and what the long-lasting implications of both have been for the society we live in today. That only seems fair to me.
You can stream The Billion Dollar Club exclusively on Netflix. Did you have any thoughts about The Billion Dollar Code’s ending? Let us know in the comments.