The Supreme Court of eh United States has ended the decade-long legal tussle between tech giants Google and Oracle over the allegation that Google had copied a an Oracle owned code in Google’s Android operating system.
A case against Google was filed by Oracle in 2010 for alleged for copyright infringement as the company alleged that Google has copied its computer code. An estimated 70 per cent of global smartphones currently are powered by Google’s Android operating system and the claimed damages were in billions.
The US Supreme Court overturned a decision of the lower court that had upheld Oracle’s charges – essentially letting Google off the hook. The court ruled six to two in favour of Google.
At the core of the case was whether Oracle’s Java API – a widely-used “building block” for programmers, as used by Google could be considered as being “fair use” according to the copyright law of the US. If it was considered to be “fair use” then the accusation against Google that it had copied more than 11,000 lines of code would not matter in the case.
“To allow enforcement of Oracle’s copyright here would risk harm to the public”, said Justice Stephen Breyer, in his written opinion.
Oracle’s building blocks has been used by so many programmers used and so many others had deep knowledge of it that such a move would turn computer code into “a lock limiting the future creativity of new programs”. In that case “Oracle alone would hold the key,” he warned.
While stating that it firmly disagreed with the court’s judgement, Oracle said that this ruling has effectively enhanced Google’s power further while damaging the ability to compete of other companies.
“They stole Java and spent a decade litigating as only a monopolist can,” said Dorian Daley, the company’s general counsel, in a statement. “This behaviour is exactly why regulatory authorities around the world and in the United States are examining Google’s business practices.”
On the other hand, the Supreme Court’s decision was hailed as a victory for the software industry as a whole by Google.
“Today’s Supreme Court decision in Google v Oracle is a big win for innovation, interoperability and computing,” wrote Ken Walker, the company’s senior vice president for global affairs. “Thanks to the country’s leading innovators, software engineers and copyright scholars for their support.”
According to the opinion of the majority of judges, Google’s copying of the Java code as well as in the particular manner that the code was used, was in fact “a fair use of that material”.
But on the issue of how to apply traditional copyright law to computer code, there was disagreement among the judges.
It is “difficult to apply traditional copyright concepts in that technological world”, noted Justice Breyer, writing for the majority of judges.
But Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in a dissenting note that there is effective redefining of the idea of fair use by allowing it simply because it allows new products to be created. “That new definition eviscerates copyright,” he warned.
(Adapted from BBC.com)