The fact that Google recently lost a copyright case after a lengthy legal battle could create a shift in thinking about software development.
A legal battle that spans nearly 8 years
In 2010, Oracle brought a case against Google for using their open-source Java software to build their Android mobile operating platform. Oracle brought the suit because they believed Google had infringed copyright on the software. Google believed this wasn’t the case because what it did fell under the “fair use” section of copyright law.
When Oracle filed the suit in 2010, it wanted $2.6 billion in damages from Google for the use of its APIs (Application Program Interfaces).
In 2012, a jury decided that Java was not protected under copyright law. This decision was appealed and overturned. When the case went in front of a jury in 2016, damages were recalculated and upped to $9 billion based on the growth of the Android platform.The jury decided that Google’s use of Oracle’s APIs was legal under the copyright law of fair use. This allows the free use of copyrighted material under specific circumstances.
Oracle once again appealed the decision, and this time, Google was on the losing side. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed the jury finding that Java is open and free for everyone to use. They decided that Google had gone too far in using Java shortcuts to develop their Android platform.
The case was remanded to the federal court in California to decide how much Google now owes Oracle in damages. Google could be facing a multi-billion dollar verdict if earlier claims are anything to go by.
What will Google do now?
A Google spokesperson said that Google was considering its options. The Supreme Court has already declined to hear the case, but Google may decide to petition it once more. The legal ground shifts as this matter goes back and forth, but at this juncture, it appears that Oracle could have the upper hand.
Google believes that extending copyright to APIs will threaten innovation. Oracle believes that Google violated copyright law and creators need to be protected against the unlawful abuse of their rights. The current decision in favor of Oracle runs counter to current practice. Software companies have been borrowing APIs from existing products for years, either to ensure compatibility between products or make learning new technologies easier for programmers.
The case has been watched very closely by those who develop interface code and those who use it to develop their software programs. It is testing the boundaries between the rights of these two parties and raises many questions for software developers, such as when ownership begins and ends.
Many others rely on open-source technology to develop their platforms, so this decision affects more than just Google. The ruling means that they will have to develop their own software from scratch or pay to use certain software. This could lead to fewer choices and higher prices for consumers.