In a long-running copyright lawsuit over the usage of Java application programming interface (API) code in Android, the Supreme Court sided with Google against Oracle on Monday, April 5.
The Supreme Court ruled 6-2, with one justice (Amy Coney Barrett) absent from the decision since the case was argued before she joined the court. This is a reverse of the previous rulings in 2014 and 2018, which agreed Google’s API implementation was an infringement.
“Google’s copying of the API to reimplement a user interface, taking only what was needed to allow users to put their accrued talents to work in a new and transformative program, constituted a fair use of that material,” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote.
Oracle accused Google of copyright infringement over the roughly 11,000 lines of code that the searching engine corporate employed in building Andriod. Oracle obtained Java in 2010 when it bought Sun Microsystems.
Oracle demanded Google $9 billion damage compensation, claiming that the code was used without approval. Meanwhile, Google argued that it abided by the fair use doctrine while using the code, thus claiming it was not liable for copyright violations.
Kent Walker, Google’s senior vice president of global affairs, said the latest ruling provides legal security for future innovations that ultimately ‘benefit consumers’.
“The Supreme Court’s clear ruling is a victory for consumers, interoperability, and computer science,” Walker stated.
Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented. In a statement, Thomas believed the court did not take into account that copyright, in his opinion, covers declaring code.
“The majority purports to save for another day the question whether declaring code is copyrightable,” he declared in his dissent, “the only apparent reason for doing so is because the majority cannot square its fundamentally flawed fair-use analysis with a finding that declaring code is copyrightable.”
On the day the decision was made, Oracle released a statement on its website, “The Google platform just got bigger and market power greater—the barriers to entry higher and the ability to compete lower.”
“They stole Java and spent a decade litigating as only a monopolist can. This behavior is exactly why regulatory authorities around the world and in the United States are examining Google’s business practices,” Dorian Daley, Executive Vice President and General Counsel, wrote in the statement.