Oracle Gets Partial Win in Suit Against Google

Posted on: May 7, 2012

In a partial win for Oracle, a jury decided unanimously today that Google did infringe on the overall structure, sequence and organization of Oracle’s Java programming language. Without getting into the technical details, Google violated Oracle’s copyright by”. . . liberally borrowing technology from Sun's Java — including the programming language itself, the syntax of many of the APIs that Java programs call upon, and the virtual machine approach,” writes Stephen Shankland of CNET. For those interested in the technical details of the alleged infringement, a link to Shankland’s original and highly informative article is here.

While the jury did find for Oracle on the infringement issue, the jury was unable to decide other legal issues on the table. Specifically, they were deadlocked on the issue of whether Google’s use of the Java’s APIs fell within the “fair-use” exception to the law.

In a statement issued to CNET by Google, Google stated that “We appreciate the jury's efforts, and know that fair use and infringement are two sides of the same coin. The core issue is whether the APIs here are copyrightable, and that's for the court to decide. We expect to prevail on this issue and Oracle's other claims.”

Oracle issued the following statement in response:

Oracle, the nine million Java developers, and the entire Java community thank the jury for their verdict in this phase of the case. The overwhelming evidence demonstrated that Google knew it needed a license and that its unauthorized fork of Java in Android shattered Java's central write once run anywhere principle. Every major commercial enterprise — except Google — has a license for Java and maintains compatibility to run across all computing platforms.

The fundamental dispute is whether APIs are copyrightable at all. Oracle’s position is that the creation of APIs is analogous to writing a piece of music, in that they are not just “ideas” but are copyrightable works that require time and expertise to develop.

Google is arguing that they did not infringe on the copyright because it did not copy any unauthorized Java code. They hold the position that their use of the APIs was “transformative,” not derivative, as it was creating something new.

Presiding Judge Alsup requested counsel for both parties to comment on a ruling from the European Court of Justice which held that programming languages are not copyrightable. That ruling stated that “neither the functionality of a computer program nor the programming language and the format of data files used in a computer program in order to exploit certain of its functions constitute a form of expression. Accordingly, they do not enjoy copyright protection.”

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Source: Rachel King and Dan Farber May 7, 2012, CNET