30 June, 2016

Goliath v Jury - Google's Use of Java APIs Fair Use, Says Jury

The fight between Google and Oracle over the Java platform, specially the API (Application programming interface) for the program and its copyright protection, has been raging for what feels like aeons. This blog has discussed the Court of Appeals (where Google was found to have infringed the code's copyright protection through verbatim copying into its Android operating system) decision some two years ago, but many have waited for the jury decision in the saga, which was handed down only a month ago.

By way of a short primer for those who have not followed the matter closely, the case dealt with 37 API packages released by Oracle (at the time Sun Microsystems) which pertained to its Java platform. Google sought to implement Java into its budding mobile operating system, Android, but both parties could not agree on a proper licencing arrangement. Nevertheless, Google implemented the APIs into its own platform, Dalvik, which consisted of 160 different APIs (of which 37 were Java APIs). Due their verbatim copying into the Dalvik platform, Oracle took Google to court, asserting copyright infringement.

After the earlier decision in various stages in the US judicial system, Google consistently lost and was deemed to have infringed the copyright in the APIs. The jury in this instance sought to look at whether Google's use amounted to fair use, and thus not infringing the rights in the works. This decision was hugely important, as Google faced damages totalling nearly $10 billion.

Blake couldn't contain himself at the thought of
unlimited, free APIs
Judge Alsup gave extensive instructions to the jury as to their assessment on fair use under US law. The jury decided the matter in three days, reaching a unanimous verdict of a finding of fair use by Google. One could argue against their finding of fair use, with Google's use not being prima facie very transformative (due to the verbatim copying of code); however, building the Android platform using the Java API did change it to something more than just Java. The judge also emphasised the fourth factor, the effect of the copying on the potential market for the work, which, in this writer's mind, could have been the linchpin for the jury's decision. Even though Java is implemented into many systems, it in itself is not an operating system, although its free incorporation into such clearly would impact on its potential market. The jury saw that Google's use was fair, and one can only wonder what persuaded them to reach the conclusion.

Although there is not much to discuss on the substantive side of the case, as is usual in this blog, the decision still is an important development in the world of technology and computer programming. As Google's statement on the win expresses: "Today's verdict that Android makes fair use of Java APIs represents a win for the Android ecosystem, for the Java programming community, and for software developers who rely on open and free programming languages to build innovative consumer products". Arguably, Google does have a point. Java has become night ubiquitous in the computing sphere (although the emergence of HTML5 could, arguably, make it obsolete), and a lack of an ability to use the technology would severely hinder any attempts of building a popular, fleshed-out operating system. On the other side of the coin, this is a blow for reaping from what you've sown, and Oracle has a right to be upset with their loss (and incredibly monetary loss through unacquired licencing fees for the hugely popular Android platform).

Many in the software industry seem to welcome the decision, such as Al Hilwa, who saw that "... most developers would likely prefer not to be burdened by copyrights around APIs". This writer is puzzled with this response, since many programmers might not be so keen to share the fruits of their labor for free. Oracle have indicated that they will appeal the decision, and this writer keenly awaits any new developments in the never-ending story that is Oracle v Google.

Source: BBC News

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