On Monday, the US Supreme Court ruled 6 to 2 that Google’s limited copy of Oracle’s Java API on the Android operating system constitutes fair use under US law.
The ruling puts an end to the cases that have plagued the software industry for more than a decade and narrows the scope of copyright law applicable to software.
The court asked two questions before that. Whether the software interface is subject to copyright protection, and whether Google’s use of Oracle’s software interface code represents fair use, assuming the Java API is copyrighted.
Oracle filed a lawsuit against Google in 2010, alleging copyright and patent infringement for Google’s use of the Java API on Android. In 2012, after the claims were dismissed, Judge William Alsup of the US District Court ruled that Oracle’s Java API was not subject to copyright protection. In 2014, the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals did not agree. Google then asked the Supreme Court to review the decision, but the petition was rejected.
Following an appeal that the API is copyrighted, a new trial has been launched to determine whether Google’s use of Oracle’s Java API can be exempted from fair use and protection against copyright infringement claims. It was done. In 2016, the jury determined that the Android operating system was fair use after Google reused 37 Java APIs and 11,500 lines of copyrighted Oracle implementation code.
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However, Oracle has appealed to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, which in 2018 overturned the jury’s decision, saying that Google will not be able to use the fair use defense because the implementation of the Java API on Android is not met. I made a decision. Four legal standards for fair use.
In order to evaluate fair use, copyright law should consider the following: Purpose and nature of use. The nature of the work; the ratio of copied works to the original. The impact of copying on the original market.
Therefore, the proceeding was sent back to the judge to determine damages, which was estimated at approximately $ 9 billion.
In 2019, Google again appealed to the Supreme Court and the allegations were accepted. On Monday, six judges supported Google Breyer, Roberts, Sotomayor, Kagan, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh, two Thomas and Alito opposed, and Judge Barrett did not participate in the decision.
“A Google copy of the Java SE API, which contains only the lines of code needed to bring the talent accumulated by programmers to work in new and innovative programs, was a fair use of the material as a matter of law.” [PDF] To tell.
Oracle condemned the ruling in a statement emailed to the cash register. Big Red denies Java’s copyrighted monopoly, characterizes Google as a thief and monopoly, and cites the advertising company’s ongoing regulatory challenges to justify its contempt. Did.
“Google’s platform has grown and market power has increased barriers to entry and reduced competitiveness,” said an Oracle spokeswoman. “They stole Java and filed a proceeding over a decade that only monopolies could do. That’s why regulators around the world and US regulators are investigating Google’s business practices. . “
Meanwhile, Google celebrated the decision.
The Supreme Court’s clear decision is a victory for consumers, interoperability and computer science, “Kent Walker, SVP of Global Affairs, said in a statement. consumer. “
Walker endorsed Google’s cause and thanked the many organizations that it advocated on behalf of Google in years of proceedings.
In a telephone interview with the register, Pamela Samuelson, a professor of law and information at the University of California, Berkeley, said, “The court’s decision is that the scope of copyright and computer programs is narrower than the Federal Circuit’s idea. Suggests. “
Samuelson said the court made a decision based on the issue of fair use. “But I don’t think this is a denial of Judge Alsap’s opinion on copyright issues.”
In fact, the majority cites the functional nature of computer code as a complex factor in deciding what is subject to copyright protection. “The fact that computer programs work primarily makes it difficult to apply traditional copyright concepts in the world of technology,” he says.
The fact that computer programs are primarily functioning makes it difficult to apply traditional copyright concepts in the world of technology.
Samuelson said the decision would likely win the defendant’s allegations to dismiss the API copyright proceedings, even if he did not make a valid claim.
In a statement emailed to The Register, J. Michael Keyes, a partner at law firm Dorsey & Whitney, described the ruling as the largest copyright decision of a generation.
“The court said that fair use “has an important role to play in computer programs by providing context-based checks that keep the copyright monopoly given to computer programs within legal limits.” Said. “I think this theme unleashes many future discussions and claims about the application of fair use to software-related claims. More copies, more cases, and more fair use claims. I will. “
Keys in an email to The Register said the court left the court open to see if the code declaration was copyrighted. “The court assumes so, but that” assumption “is not binding on future parties to the proceedings,” he said. “It is expected that this problem will occur again in the future.”
Ten years later, the Google vs. Oracle API copyright megabattle finally hit the Supreme Court, and we read more.
For each part of the four-part test, the majority of judges found Google’s use of Java appropriate.
“Google’s limited copy of the API is a transformative use,” many commented, further pointing out that the 11,500 lines copied were only 0.4% of the 2.86 million lines of code in the Java API. I will. “Google copied only what it needed to allow programmers to work in another computing environment, without discarding some of the programming languages they were familiar with.”
Keys said this decision is also noteworthy, as it reinstates the criteria for deciding whether a copy of a work will change the amount of effort required to make that copy.
“More time / money / effort to transform work is now an important factor to consider,” he said. “There’s a bit of judicial sarcasm here. How hard was the” sweat on the forehead “theory of copyright protection, that is, copyright protection, to create a work that was rejected by the court decades ago? Affects. “
Keys was asked if the court’s focus on fair use math efforts could make AI-generated works more vulnerable to piracy allegations. I think the work is still subject to fair use. How was the nature of the work and how Google was used compared to the original use of Sun products. Transformation is key. The end result ( In short, the climax of the new Android platform) certainly helped and convinced the court, thanks to the efforts of 100 programmers and three years of hard work! “
In another order [PDF]The Supreme Court invalidated the lower court’s ruling that when Donald Trump was President of the United States, he violated the Constitution by blocking people on Twitter. The court sent the case back to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, with instructions that the case should be dismissed as a dispute due to the change of government in the United States.
Judge Thomas, in favor, is taking the opportunity to push the boundaries of digital platforms. He argues that legislators should consider classifying companies such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter as utilities, thereby limiting the user’s ability to unlock the platform.
“It looks like Congress hasn’t passed this kind of regulation yet,” he laments. “On the contrary, it gave the digital platform a” exemption from certain types of proceedings “… regarding the content they distribute. [under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act]However, it does not impose corresponding responsibilities such as indiscrimination, which is important here. ”
Nevertheless, Thomas admits that the Twitter case in question does not provide the court with an opportunity to consider the question raised.
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