On Monday, the Supreme Court sided with Google (GOOG, GOOGL) in a $ 9 billion copyright fight with Oracle (ORCL) over software in billions of Android phones, in a ruling which the Electronic Frontier Foundation hailed as “a fantastic victory” for small businesses trying to innovate.
In Opinion 6-2 of Judge Stephen Breyer, the court found that Google had not violated copyright law by using parts of Oracle’s Java application program interface. Oracle to create the Android operating system. On the Google side, the opinion concluded that the copy constituted “fair use”, meaning that Google did not need to obtain permission from Oracle before using it.
“The fair use analysis is really going to set a precedent that will shape serious case law for many, many years to come,” Corynne McSherry, legal director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told Yahoo! ‘amicus on behalf of Google. Finance.
“It’s really a fantastic win,” McSherry said, adding that the move means “other small businesses trying to figure out ‘can I do this new, creative and innovative thing that I maybe need to lean on? someone else’s work? ‘ will be more reassured that in the end what they do will be deemed legal. “
The case was about application programming interfaces (APIs), lines of computer code that, as Google explains, allow software applications, platforms and devices to talk to each other.
“ Profound consequences for innovation ”
In the ten-year lawsuit, Oracle claimed that Google violated copyright law by using Java language APIs to create Android, the world’s most popular operating system for mobile phones. Google responded by claiming the copy was fair use, asking the court to overturn an appeals court that favored Oracle, which claimed $ 9 billion in damages.
The case drew dozens of amicus briefs supporting both sides, including one from tech giant Microsoft (MSFT) – which spoke out in favor of Google and noted that the issue presented by the case had “Profound consequences for innovation in today’s computer industry”.
In a statement, Kent Walker, Google’s senior vice president for Global Affair, said the court ruling was a victory for consumers, interoperability and IT.
“The decision gives legal certainty to the next generation of developers whose new products and services will benefit consumers. We are very grateful for the support of a wide range of organizations, from the National Consumers League to the American Library Association, as well as established companies, start-ups and leading software engineers and copyright specialists in the world. country. “
Dorian Daley, executive vice president and general counsel for Oracle, however, said the court ruling simply made Google’s platform bigger and more powerful.
“They stole Java and spent a decade arguing like only a monopoly can,” Daley said in a statement. “This behavior is exactly why regulatory authorities around the world and in the United States are examining Google’s business practices.”
According to the judges, Google’s use of the Java API was fair use, because “The copied lines of code are part of a ‘user interface’ that allows programmers to access pre-written computer code on the web. ‘using simple commands. “
In its decision, supported by Breyer, Chief Justice John Roberts, as well as Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch, the court concluded that the Java API was different from other types of computer code.
They noted that “the copied lines are intrinsically linked to ideas not protected by copyright (the overall organization of the API) and the creation of new creative expression (the code independently written by Google). “
According to Professor Tyler Ochoa of the High Tech Law Institute at the University of Santa Clara School of Law, the court ruling does not mean that software can be copied in bulk, but rather that the implementation of interfaces from application software can be used under fair use terms.
“They put a lot of emphasis on the distinction between code declaration and code implementation, and suggested that code declaration was subject, at a minimum, to much less protection than code implementation,” he said. Ochoa explained.
“Computer programs are always protected by copyright, the code of computer programs is always protected by copyright,” he said. “What the court ruled is that the structure of a user interface could be copied by someone who reimplements that interface in a different way.”
The High Court ruling only ends a legal battle for Google, which faces ongoing antitrust lawsuits, including one from the Justice Department and two more from dozens of attorneys general.