Oracle V. Google Jury: Android’s Use Of Java APIs Constitutes Fair Use
Google and independent developers everywhere are no doubt breathing a sigh of relief now that the latest verdict in the long-running and highly-contentious Oracle V. Google trial has been delivered. In the latest round, the jury presented its verdict Thursday, deciding unanimously that Android’s use of Java APIs falls under “fair use”, thus there will be no penalty paid by Google.
This also means that other developers are able to use Java APIs without having to fear legal retribution by Oracle. It also means that it won’t be “open season” on developers who use other companies’ APIs in general. At least for now, that is, as Oracle vowed to appeal the verdict. It’s noteworthy that Oracle won a previous appeal of a ruling in Google’s favor – one in which Federal District Court Judge William Alsup had ruled that Java APIs weren’t subject to copyright law.
Here’s a basic history of the now-famous lawsuit Oracle brought against Google as far back as 2010 (you can read the full history at Wikipedia):
- January 2010: Oracle purchases Java from Sun Microsystems, which had originally developed the programming language.
- August 2010: Oracle files a lawsuit against Google after licensing talks broke down – Oracle accused Google of patent and copyright infringement, the latter pertaining to Java APIs.
- May 2012: the jury finds “non-infringement” on the patent portion of the lawsuit while Judge Alsup rules that the Java APIs aren’t subject to copyright law.
- May 2014: Oracle wins its appeal to the Federal District Court on the copyright portion of the original trial. The court ruled that Java APIs are indeed subject to copyright law but declined to rule on the “fair use” exception, sending the case back to Judge Alsup’s court for a new trial to determine whether Android’s use of Java APIs fell under the exception.
- October 2014: Google appeals the decision to the United States Supreme Court, which declines to hear the case, thus necessitating the aforementioned “fair use” trial.
- May 2016: the “fair use” trial opens on the 9th with closing arguments taking place on the 23rd and the verdict ruling that Android’s use of the APIs constituted fair use. While Google celebrated, Oracle vowed to appeal.
As I mentioned above, the trial has huge implications not only for Google but also for developers in general. Had the jury ruled in Oracle’s favor, Google would have had to pay up to $9 billion in damages, and legal precedent would have been established for other companies to sue developers who use their APIs for copyright infringement. As one might surmise, this would have the effect of discouraging the use of proprietary APIs across the board as independent developers and large development studios alike would be wary of legal retribution. As a result, software innovation might have been hindered across the board.
It remains to be seen whether Oracle carries out its vow to appeal and whether the company wins again. If Oracle does win, all the relief that Google and other software developers felt would evaporate, though Google could appeal to the Supreme Court again and might be heard next time.