Oracle has lost the challenge of holding Google responsible for copyright infringement, with the Supreme Court ending more than a decade of legal disputes over some of the main components of Android. The case dates back to 2010, with Oracle arguing that Google copied Java APIs that belonged to Sun Microsystems – which Oracle bought – when developing Android and, as such, was responsible for $ 8.8 billion in damages.
Google, interestingly, did not deny that it had used the APIs when it developed Android. However, he argues that its implementation counted as fair use and, as such, did not leave the company open to a copyright penalty.
Since then, Android has changed and now no longer depends on controversial components. However, the Google v. Oracle has been closely monitored by the technology industry in general, for its potential implications on how APIs are controlled and how software and hardware interoperability can be developed.
Things did not look positive for Google after two initial District Court-level jury judgments, considered in favor of the search giant, were reversed by the Federal Court. This concluded that the APIs may be protected by copyright and that Google’s use of them was not fair. Google filed a petition with the United States Supreme Court in response to that decision in favor of Oracle, but has been taken to this day for a final sentence to be handed down.
In a 6-2 decision, the lower court’s decision was overturned by the Federal Supreme Court. “In reviewing this decision, we assume, for the sake of argument, that the material may be protected by copyright,” wrote Judge Stephen Breyer in the decision. “But we maintain that the copy in question here, even so, constituted a fair use. Therefore, Google’s copy did not violate copyright law. “
“Computer programs differ to some extent from many other copyrighted works because computer programs always serve a functional purpose,” wrote Judge Stephen Breyer in the opinion of the majority. “Because of these differences, fair use has an important role to play for computer programs, providing context-based verification that keeps the copyright monopoly granted to computer programs within their legal limits.”
The two dissident judges were Judge Clarence Thomas and Judge Samuel Alito. Since Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed before the case was discussed, but before Judge Amy Coney Barrett was installed, only eight judges gave the verdict.
The decision is likely to be welcomed in the world of technology, in which concern has been expressed that the undue control given to developers around APIs could represent a significant new obstacle to software development. Still, the implications of the decision are unlikely to be clear for some time. In deciding that APIs may, in fact, be subject to copyright and that a definition of fair use depends on how companies actually use those APIs, it is not the conclusive position that many expected.