U.S. Supreme Court backs Google over Oracle in major copyright case

The US Supreme Court has ruled in favor of Google that its use of Oracle’s proprietary Java API code elements to build an Android operating system does not violate federal copyright law.

“Copying the API to re-implement the user interface, taking only what is required to allow users to put their accumulated talents to work in a new and transformative program, constitutes a fair use of this material,” the Supreme Court said in the ruling.

The lawsuit accused Google of theft by copying 11,330 lines of Java code, in addition to the way it is structured in order to create Android and reap billions of dollars in revenue.

Oracle wants to enforce copyright on those lines of code in the Android database, which represents 37 separate APIs.

The Supreme Court overturned a previous federal ruling that found Google’s use of the API to be infringing and unfair use under United States copyright law.

The Supreme Court opinion concluded that APIs – which allow programmers to access other code – are significantly different from other types of computer software.

“Allowing Oracle to enforce copyright on copied lines of code harms the public by limiting the future creativity of new software,” said Judge Stephen Breyer.

The decision aims to place special emphasis on APIs as a category, and that fair use can play an important role in determining the legal scope of copyright for computer software.

Google and Oracle have both been fighting a ruling in their favor since Oracle filed a lawsuit for copyright infringement in 2010 over the issue of interoperability for Java in Android, and this case extended to 3 courts and two separate appeals.

Google has appealed a 2018 ruling to revive the lawsuit, and this new ruling avoids Google paying potentially serious damages.

Oracle at the start of the case sought more than $ 8 billion, but renewed estimates rose from $ 20 to $ 30 billion.

Google said it had not copied the Java language, but that it used elements of Java code needed to run the platform, and federal copyright law does not protect operating methods.

The two companies explained that issuing a ruling against them would harm innovation, as Google said, “The shortcut commands that I have copied in the Android system help developers write programs to work across platforms, which is a key to software innovation and the information age,” while Oracle said that “The developers will not create new programs knowing that they are being stolen.”