Supreme Court ends dispute between Oracle and Google over Java API use8. April 2021
Supreme Court ends dispute between Oracle and Google over Java API use
New York, 8/4/2021
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that Google can lawfully use a portion of Oracle’s Java API in the development of its Android mobile operating system. The decision ends the long-running copyright dispute between Google and Oracle, which has long dominated tech industry headlines for its potential impact on API use and software and hardware interoperability.
This ruling reverses a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which concluded that Google’s API use was copyright infringement. The court ruled by a 6-2 vote that while APIs can be subject to copyright, companies like Google can be exempt from copyright liability if their use qualifies as “fair use.” The definition of “fair use,” the court said, depends on how companies actually use those APIs.
Noting that APIs are significantly different from other computer programs, the court pointed out that Google’s API use also allows Java programmers to create Android apps, which the court called fundamentally transformative use.
“Google’s copying of the API to reimplement a user interface, taking only what was necessary to allow users to apply their accumulated talents in a new and transformative program, constituted a fair use of that material,” the Supreme Court said.
For years, Oracle – the owners of Java – argued that Google owed them at least $8.8 billion for copying 12,000 lines of Java’s API to build their Android mobile operating system without a license. Google, however, argued that it was legal to use Java in Android, adding that a declaration to the contrary would stifle innovation in the computer industry.
“An Oracle victory would turn on its head the way the technology industry has always approached the important issue of software interfaces,” Kent Walker, Google’s chief legal officer, once wrote in a blog post. “It would grant copyright holders monopoly power for the first time to stifle the creation of new implementations and applications.”
In response to the ruling, an Oracle spokesman said the market is now less competitive because the decision increases Google’s platform and strengthens its market power. “The barriers to entry are higher and the ability to compete is lower. They stole Java and litigated for a decade as only a monopolist can,” Oracle spokeswoman Deborah Hellinger said. “This behavior is exactly why regulators around the world and in the United States are investigating Google’s business practices.”