One of the biggest copyright cases in recent tech history—the years-long battle between Google and Oracle—came to a close Thursday...sort of.
Oracle initially took Google to court over its use of Java APIs in the Android operating system. However, the federal court jury charged with overseeing the case ruled that Google's use of the APIs amounted to "fair use."
For those unfamiliar, Stanford University defines fair use as such:"In its most general sense, a fair use is any copying of copyrighted material done for a limited and 'transformative' purpose, such as to comment upon, criticize, or parody a copyrighted work. Such uses can be done without permission from the copyright owner."
The verdict is a big win for Google for a variety of reasons. For starters, they won't have to pay the $9 billion that Oracle was seeking in damages. But, it's also a big win for developers as well.
Back in 2014, it was ruled in the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals that the Java APIs in questions did, indeed, deserve copyright protection. This is around the time that the fair use case was being argued by Google's camp.
As noted on ZDNet, some argued that an upholding of that ruling could have had a chilling effect on developers. Additionally, TechRepublic contributor Matt Asay argued that an Oracle win would have proven problematic for the software industry, as it has been moving away from licensing for quite some time.
Google's big argument was that its use of the Java APIs was functional, rather than creative. In his closing arguments, Google attorney Robert Van Nest said that the Java language was always "open and free," and that Oracle didn't have a problem with Android until it couldn't accomplish what Google did.
Van Nest said that Oracle CEO Larry Ellison only had a problem with Google's use of Java APIs in Android "after he had tried to use Java to build his own smartphone and failed to do it."
Still, the ruling's full impact isn't clear just yet. As also noted on ZDNet, the ruling is unlikely to set any real legal precedent as fair use is usually determined on a case-by-case basis. There's also the possibility of an appeal, which Oracle is likely to pursue.
"We strongly believe that Google developed Android by illegally copying core Java technology to rush into the mobile device market," Oracle general counsel Dorian Daley said in a statement. "Oracle brought this lawsuit to put a stop to Google's illegal behavior. We believe there are numerous grounds for appeal and we plan to bring this case back to the Federal Circuit on appeal."
The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers
- A federal jury ruled that Google's use of Java APIs in Android constitutes "fair use," meaning Google won't have to pay Oracle the $9 billion it's asking for.
- The Java APIs were ruled to be protected under copyright in 2014, but Google argued that its use of the Java APIs was for functional purposes only, which meant it was transformative in how they applied them.
- Fair use cases are difficult to use as a precedent, and Oracle will probably appeal the ruling, so it is difficult to say what this means for the tech industry just yet.
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- Android Wars 2016: Google surrenders to Oracle as Microsoft allies with Cyanogen (ZDNet)
Conner Forrest has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.