Today, a jury in California’s Northern District federal court declared that Google’s use of copyright-protected code in Android was fair use, freeing it of any risk. Oracle, which controls the copyright on the code, had been looking for $9 billion for the use of the code.
The case bases on an API created by Java and owned by Oracle, which allows outside programs to effectively connect with Java programs. Android uses the same API, and in 2014 a federal appeals court decided that Oracle has a legitimate copyright claim on the API code, possibly putting Google on the hook for billions of dollars in harms. (The Supreme Court declined to hear the claim.) In the latest round, Google contended that Android’s reimplementation of the API constituted reasonable use, which would allow the use of the code without invalidating Oracle’s copyright. At last, the jury observed that case convincing.
The court battle pivoted in large part on archived emails sent by Android founder Andy Rubin, who kept on building up the operating system after it was obtained by Google in 2005.
In one email, uncovered through the legal discovery process, Rubin appears to criticize another organization’s choice to build on top of Java’s API, which was owned by Sun Microsystems at the time. Rubin wrote in an email: Wish them luck. Java.lang.apis are copyrighted. also, Sun gets the chance to say who they license the
Wish them luck. Java.lang.apis are copyrighted. also, Sun gets the chance to say who they license the tck to.
Reasonable use rulings are made on a case-by-case basis so today’s ruling doesn’t set any legal precedent, but it’s by far the most high-profile decision of its kind. Both Google’s Go and Apple’s Swift are licensed in a way that would close off the possibility of such a suit later on. Still, the possibility a number of legal scholars have anticipated a “chilling effect” for developers if such lawsuits are common and successful.