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Supreme Court Deems Java Fair Game; Oracle Loses To Google

A decade-long battle between Google and Oracle has finally reached its conclusion.

The US Supreme Court ruled that Google didn’t commit copyright infringement when it used Oracle’s Java API programming code in the Android operating system.

In 2010, Oracle sued Google for copyright infringement over alleged copied computer code. The argument was over whether Google’s free use of Oracle’s Java API – a widely used building block for programmers – counted as fair use under US copyright law.

In a 6–2 ruling, the court said Google engaged in legitimate “fair use” when it put key aspects of Oracle’s Java programming language in the Android operating system. Writing for the court, Justice Stephen Breyer said that Google used “only what was needed to allow users to put their accrued talents to work in a new and transformative program.”

Oracle argued that companies need strong copyright protection, and without it there would be less incentive to invest large sums required for product creation.

The tech company said that its Java APIs were freely available to those who wanted to build applications that run on computers and mobile devices. But Oracle said it required companies to get a license if they wanted to use the shortcuts for a competing platform or to embed them in an electronic device.

The Supreme Court didn’t address whether the code was eligible for copyright protection. Breyer said that for this case the court would “assume, for argument’s sake, that the material was copyrightable.”

Oracle said Google was facing an existential threat because its search engine – the source of its advertising revenue – wasn’t being used on smartphones. Google bought the Android mobile operating system in 2005 and copied Java code to attract developers but refused to take a license, Oracle contended.

Android is now used in an estimated 70 per cent of smartphones worldwide, which means by now, damages could have run into the billions.

The decision to rule in Google’s favour overturned the decision made previously by a lower court that the company had committed copyright infringement.

Justice Stephen Breyer, in his written opinion, said that “to allow enforcement of Oracle’s copyright here would risk harm to the public”.

So many programmers used and had deep knowledge of Oracle’s building blocks that such a move would turn computer code into “a lock limiting the future creativity of new programs”.

“Oracle alone would hold the key,” he warned.

After the ruling, Oracle stated, “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 behaviour is exactly why regulatory authorities around the world and in the United States are examining Google’s business practices.”

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