Oracle wins appeal against Google in landmark copyright case
The never ending legal battle between Oracle and Google took a new twist on Tuesday when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington ruled that Google’s use of Java shortcuts to develop Android “went too far” and was “a violation of Oracle’s copyrights”. This decision could see Google pay Oracle billions in damages, as the eight-year-long dispute between the two software giants draws near a close, reports Bloomberg.
For those unaware, Java was created by Sun Microsystems back in the 1990s and Oracle acquired the company in 2010. The legal battle between Oracle and Google formally started in 2010 over bits of Java code called Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) – a set of routines, protocols, and tools for building software applications. APIs are useful as developers don’t have to write new code from scratch to implement every new function or change it for every new type of device.
Eight months after the purchase, Oracle accused Google of using its copyrighted APIs in its Android mobile operating system and filed a lawsuit. Since then, both the companies have gone through federal trials and multiple appeals courts in the U.S.
In May 2016, Oracle lost the plagiarism case it had filed against Google, as the search giant had argued that the copying fell within the “fair use” provision of copyright law, which meant it was free to use. At that time, a jury of 10 unanimously agreed with Google who found that the search giant’s use of declaring code, and the structure, sequence, and organization of Java APIs was fair use.
Google at the time, said that its victory at trial was “a win for the Android ecosystem; for the Java programming community and for software developers who rely on open and free programming languages to build innovative consumer products.”
However, Oracle went ahead and appealed the ruling in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, and asked them to overrule the federal jury’s decision taken in May 2016 that says Google’s use of Oracle software didn’t violate copyright law. As of 2016, Oracle sought $9 billion in damages as part of the lawsuit it first filed in 2010.
Finally, the U.S. Court of Appeals in its decision on Tuesday (March 27, 2018) ruled that Google’s use of APIs was “unfair as a matter of law.”
“[T]he fact that Android is free of charge does not make Google’s use of the Java API packages noncommercial,” the three-judge panel wrote in its decision. It also pointed out that Android has made more than $42 billion in revenue from advertising and that Google had not made any changes of the copyrighted material.
“There is nothing fair about taking a copyrighted work verbatim and using it for the same purpose and function as the original in a competing platform,” it stated.
Oracle said its APIs are freely available to those who want to build applications for computers and mobile devices, but draws the line at anyone who wants to use them for a competing platform or to embed them in an electronic device.
Welcoming the ruling, Dorian Daley, an Oracle executive vice president and the company’s general counsel, in a statement said, “The Federal Circuit’s opinion upholds fundamental principles of copyright law and makes clear that Google violated the law. This decision protects creators and consumers from the unlawful abuse of their rights.”
On the other hand, Google and its supporters said that extending copyright protection to APIs, would threaten innovation and lead to higher costs for consumers.
“We are disappointed the court reversed the jury finding that Java is open and free for everyone,” Google said in a statement. “This type of ruling will make apps and online services more expensive for users. We are considering our options.”
Google is likely to ask the three-judge panel to reconsider its decision or ask the full appeals court to review the decision. The case could even go all the way to the Supreme Court of the U.S.
The case has been closely followed by the tech industry because of its extensive implications for software innovation and copyright law.
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Gurupriyan is a Software Engineer and a technology enthusiast, he’s been working on the field for the last 6 years. Currently focusing on mobile app development and IoT.