The notorious Oracle vs Google case came to a close yesterday, with a US based Jury ruling in favor of Google. There must have being an audible collective sigh of relief in Google headquarters and amongst developers. For Oracle though, a sigh would have been that of frustration when the judge announced the decision of the jury.
History of Oracle vs Google
Oracle first dragged Google to court over the use of 37 Java APIs in the making of the Android operating system. Oracle’s contention against Google seemed simple and straightforward. They posited that Google infringed on their property and was using it to make money without paying a dime in compensation. Oracle wanted $9 billion as damages. But like all cases involving copyrights issues nothing is ever straightforward or simple.
The first ruling in the case was in favour of Google. The Judge ruled that that APls do not fall under the category of items that can be copyrighted. That was two years after the case started in 2010. Feeling sore by the decision, Oracle appealed the ruling and another district Judge ruled against Google. Basically saying that APls can be classed as intellectual property and so can be offered copyright protection.
But Google was not willing to pay that money without a fight. They changed tack. A year later they filed an appeal. This time, they did not argue that APls cannot be protected under copyright laws. Google main argument was that though they used the 37 Java APls in creating the Android OS, that act should fall under fair usage policy which is not a crime. Fair usage in this case implies that they only used bits and piece of the contentious APls. Not the entire codes. And according to Google, a fair usage policy implies they don’t have to take permission from Oracle before using the codes.
It was this argument the jury agreed with. And just like that, Google dodged a $9 billion bullet
What Next for Software Developers And Programmers
Like earlier mentioned, there must have being a long sigh of relief for developers and programmers. The ruling is good news for them. They can now use bits and pieces of others APls to create digital products and softwares without being afraid of litigation from owners of the codes. However, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the earlier decision that APls cannot be subject to copyright laws can make things a bit tricky for developers and programmers. That means anybody willing to use these codes would have to be extra careful and very creative in making sure they don’t break the bonds of fair use. Hear what the EFF had to say on the ruling as it affects the industry as a whole,
If Google wins at this stage, it’s tempting to declare the nightmare of that Federal Circuit opinion behind us. After all, fair use is a right—and even if API labels are subject to copyright restrictions, those restrictions are not absolute. Google prevailing on fair use grounds would set a good precedent for the next developer of API-compatible software to argue that their use too is fair.
Tempting, but not quite right. After all, there is a real cost to defending fair use. It takes time, money, lawyers, and thanks to the outrageous penalties associated with copyright infringement, comes with a substantial risk. Beyond all those known costs, wedging a layer of copyright permissions culture into API compatibility comes with serious unknowable costs, too: how many developers will abandon ideas for competitive software because the legal risks are too great?”
Anyway, in the six years since the case started, events in the industry have found ways around this tricky issue. The industry now has a set a of rules that easily allow developers and programmers to use these APls without breaking the law.
As far as Oracle are concerned, it is not yet Uhuru for Google. They intend to appeal this decision. If the appeal goes ahead, then we still have months and probably years before a final binding decision is reached. But I doubt if Google would ever part with that $9 billion. A likely scenario is Google will spend several more years in court contesting the size of the fine.