Yesterday saw a big win for Android and software in general, as a ten-member jury unanimously agreed that Google’s re-implementation of 37 Java APIs for Android did not infringe on Oracle-owned copyrights.
The verdict saves Google from paying a rumoured $9 billion in damages; more importantly it’s a high-profile legal precedent for the doctrine of fair use. Said a Google spokesperson to Ars Technica:
“Today’s verdict 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.”
The Electronic Frontier Foundation had this to say about the verdict:
The verdict is an important validation of the idea that developing interoperable software need not require permission or a license. As Google attorney Robert Van Nest said in his closing arguments, the law expressly endorses fair use—it’s a right, not an “excuse,” as Oracle attorneys had claimed.
If you didn’t know, API is an acronym for application protocol interface; it can be defined in basic terms as a contract between two pieces of software. A Java developer describing APIs on Quora gives the example of a weather site making its data available via an API.
What’s problematic is that APIs can even be considered copyrightable in the first place. Most of Java is licensed under the GPL (a free software license), but an earlier trial against Oracle had forced Google to turn to fair use as a defence. Here’s Techdirt to explain:
Fair use was the wrong vehicle. The APIs never should have been considered copyright-eligible in the first place, just as the judge in the original trial explained. It’s only because an excessively confused federal circuit appeals court mucked things up that the case had to be redone over fair use.
With Oracle vowing to appeal yesterday’s decision, this likely won’t be the last we hear on the matter.