Oracle vs. Google: Supreme Court Sides Google in Copyright Dispute
The Supreme Court ruled that Google can legally use Java code elements in Android, writes The Verge.
The court's conclusion states that the APIs that allow programmers to access other code is significantly different from other types of computer programs. “As part of the interface, copied strings are inherently linked to non-copyright ideas,” writes Justice Stephen Breuer. Google used lines of Java programming language code to give programmers the ability to create Android apps, which the court said is a fundamental departure from what might be considered plagiarism.
"Google copied only the bare essentials so that programmers can work in a different computing environment that has fragments of a familiar programming language."
“We are not canceling or modifying our previous fair use cases, such as those involving 'counterfeiting' products,” Breuer writes. The decision depends a lot on how the code allows for creative expression, which the doctrine of fair use should promote. "In our view, fair use can play an important role in defining the legal scope of copyright in a computer program."
The Google versus Oracle standoff in the Android versus Java case has been going on for over a decade and includes three lawsuits and two separate appeals. The current case is whether Oracle can enforce its copyright for the roughly 11,500 lines in the Android codebase representing 37 separate APIs. Although Google has developed APIs for Android independently, they are clearly based on similar APIs in Java code. Oracle claims that the "structure, sequencing, and organization" of the Android APIs are so similar that they violate Oracle's copyright for Java code.
In 2014, a federal appeals court ruled that the API could be subject to copyright. But that decision left open the question of whether Google's implementation violated the Java copyright, and Google began a second phase of the case, arguing that Android APIs constituted fair use. In 2018, the same appellate court ruled that the case in question was not fair use, leaving the company at risk of up to $ 8.8 billion in damages. Today's decision reverses that ruling, allowing Google to continue to use Android code without threatening copyright infringement.
In October, there was an oral argument in favor of the Supreme Court case, in which Breuer compared Oracle's claims against the Android API with copyright claims for a QWERTY keyboard. "If you let someone copyright it now, that someone can control absolutely every typewriter," Breuer noted, "and that has nothing to do with copyright."
Judges Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito opposed the decision of the Supreme Court. Thomas argued that the court was making an untenable distinction between enforceable code (which had been recognized as copyright in a previous ruling) and its declaration.
“Congress has rejected the categorical distinction between declaring and implementing code,” writes Thomas. “But now it’s about him. As a result, we have a situation that makes it difficult to imagine any circumstances in which the declared code will remain protected by copyright. "