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On Thursday, Oracle was delivered a blow in its years-long litigation against Google’s use of Java in Android. A jury has determined that Google’s use of Java Application Programing Interfaces (API) in the creation of Android fell under fair use, and that Oracle therefore has no damages under copyright law.

In the second trial, the jury has unanimously ruled that Google’s actions when creating Android were fair use. Many current and former engineers at both companies testified, as did former Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz. Schwartz testified that while Sun was not happy with Google’s decision to writer their own Java implementation, they accepted that they had that right. Oracle argued this was an infringement in their right to license Java, and that by copying names and overall structure, there was a copyright violation.

Previously, Google had argued that there was no copyright violation at all because the API’s should not be covered by copyright to begin with. The federal judge overseeing the case, Judge William Alsup, agreed with Google, and declared that as long as the useful parts of the code was different, there was no violation. “So long as the specific code used to implement a method is different, anyone is free under the Copyright Act to write his or her own code to carry out exactly the same function or specification of any methods used in the Java API. It does not matter that the declaration or method header lines are identical”, Alsup wrote.  

However, Alsup’s ruling was overturned on appeal. The Federal Court of Appeals ruled that API’s were copyrightable, and that what Oracle had deemed the “structure, sequence, and organization” of the code was as well. However, the Appellate Court remanded the case back to the lower court to determine if Google’s use of the API was fair use. The Supreme Court denied an appeal from Google, leaving the Appellate Court ruling in place.

Oracle has said that they will appeal the ruling again, and one of their attorneys has gone as far as to write an op-ed on ArsTechnica with the opinion that this ruling endangers free software licenses, including the General Public License (GPL) (A stance the Free Software Foundation, which writes the GPL, does not agree with). The appeal has not been filed, but if it is accepted, the higher court will review the ruling on API’s. 

John Quilty

Staff Writer

I've been a lover of video games, writing, and technology for as long as I remember. I have a B.A. in English from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and am a writer and copy editor for TechRaptor.