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Supreme Court hands Google victory in multibillion-dollar case against Oracle

6 months 1 week 4 days ago Monday, April 05 2021 Apr 5, 2021 April 05, 2021 11:01 AM April 05, 2021 in News
Source: CNN

The Supreme Court sided with Google after examining a case involving allegations made against the tech giant by Oracle.

The Supreme Court ultimately decided that Google did not commit copyright infringement against Oracle when it copied snippets of programming language to build its Android operating system, CNN reports.

The court stated that Google's use of so-called application programming interfaces from Oracle's Java SE was an example of fair use. One of the main issues Oracle pointed to was a claim that Google stole software when it was designing its Android mobile platform for app developers.

The software Oracle was referring to was made using helper code known as application programming interfaces, or APIs, that can be likened to building blocks that developers could plug into a larger program. APIs are frequently found in today's highly networked information economy, in which apps of various types and from different providers need to be able to work together and share data in order to serve consumers.

While law presents computer programs as generally copyrightable, APIs are different. Google used this point in its argument stating that this is because API's involve little creative expression and are simply used by developers as shorthand to invoke groups of other instructions supported by the programming language.

In any case, the ruling on the decade-old case was issued with a 6-2 decision authored by Justice Stephen Breyer.

In addition to ending a multibillion-dollar dispute between Google and Oracle, the ruling helps affirm a longstanding practice in software development. But the Court did not weigh in on the bigger question of whether APIs are copyrightable.

Google said the Court's opinion "is a victory for consumers, interoperability, and computer science. The decision gives legal certainty to the next generation of developers whose new products and services will benefit consumers."

In a statement, Oracle maintains its allegation against Google, stating, "The Google platform just got bigger and market power greater. The barriers to entry higher and the ability to compete lower .... This behavior is exactly why regulatory authorities around the world and in the United States are examining Google's business practices."

Writing for the Court, Breyer said that while it is challenging to apply traditional copyright concepts in the context of software programming, Google copied "only what was needed to allow users to put their accrued talents to work in a new and transformative program."

A world where Oracle was allowed to enforce a copyright claim, Breyer added, "would risk harm to the public" because it would establish Oracle as a new gatekeeper for software code others wanted to use.

"Oracle alone would hold the key," Breyer wrote. "The result could well prove highly profitable to Oracle (or other firms holding a copyright in computer interfaces) ... [but] the lock would interfere with, not further, copyright's basic creativity objectives."

Joining the majority opinion were Chief Justice John Roberts, and Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented, while Justice Amy Coney Barrett did not participate.

In their dissent, Thomas and Alito argued that assuming the code is copyrightable for argument's sake and skipping to a fair-use analysis "distorts" the outcome.

"Oracle's code at issue here is copyrightable, and Google's use of that copyrighted code was anything but fair," the justices argued.

During October's oral arguments, Oracle said that if Google's conduct were allowed to continue it would ruin the software industry by preventing developers from being rewarded for their work when others used their code.

Google countered that a win for Oracle would destroy the software industry by creating enormous copyright hurdles for developers and forcing them either to reinvent the wheel every time they wanted to instruct a computer to do something, or to pay licensing fees to the most dominant software companies for the right to carry out simple, mundane tasks.

Oracle had previously said Google should pay $9 billion to reflect the alleged copyright violation, CNN notes.

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