Supreme Court Sides With Google in $8 Billion Suit

San Francisco, USA - A large sign outside Google's offices in San Francisco, with the San Francisco - Oakland Bay Bridge in the background.
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The Supreme Court sided with Google in a legal fight against Oracle about code copyright yesterday.

“Google’s copying of the Java SE API, which included only those lines of code that were needed to allow programmers to put their accrued talents to work in a new and transformative program, was a fair use of that material as a matter of law,” the Supreme Court held in its decision, according to the court papers.

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The case, argued in October, was about Oracle owning a copyright in Java SE, a computer platform that uses the popular Java computer programming language. In 2005, Google acquired Android and sought to build a new software platform for mobile devices, according to the court’s decision. To allow the millions of programmers familiar with the Java programming language to work with its new Android platform, Google copied roughly 11,500 lines of code from the Java SE program. The court had to decide whether Google’s copying constituted a permissible “fair use” of that material, freeing Google from copyright liability.

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It was seen as a landmark dispute over what types of computer code are protected under American copyright law, CNBC says.

Oracle had sued Google twice before the specialized U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which held that the code in question was copyrightable and that Google’s use of it was not protected by fair use, CNBC says.

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In a statement after the court’s decision, Oracle VP Dorian Daley said that “the Google platform just got bigger and market power greater — the barriers to entry higher and the ability to compete lower. They stole Java and spent a decade litigating as only a monopolist can. This behavior is exactly why regulatory authorities around the world and in the United States are examining Google’s business practices.”

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While the Supreme Court reversed the appeals court’s decision, it did not resolve whether the code in question was copyrightable.

The majority purports to save for another day the question whether declaring code is copyrightable. The only apparent reason for doing so is because the majority cannot square its fundamentally flawed fair-use analysis with a finding that declaring code is copyrightable,” the court said in its decision.

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About the Author

Yaël Bizouati-Kennedy is a full-time financial journalist and has written for several publications, including Dow Jones, The Financial Times Group, Bloomberg and Business Insider. She also worked as a vice president/senior content writer for major NYC-based financial companies, including New York Life and MSCI. Yaël is now freelancing and most recently, she co-authored  the book “Blockchain for Medical Research: Accelerating Trust in Healthcare,” with Dr. Sean Manion. (CRC Press, April 2020) She holds two master’s degrees, including one in Journalism from New York University and one in Russian Studies from Université Toulouse-Jean Jaurès, France.

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