Ruling affirms that Oracle's Java APIs qualify for copyright protection. Will Google have to pay $1 billion?
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A federal appeals court on Friday ruled that Oracle is entitled to protect its Java APIs under copyright law, reviving the company's copyright case against Google and raising questions about whether software interoperability might become much more costly.
Oracle sued Google in 2010 over its use of Java code in Android. It lost its patent claim and prevailed in its copyright claim, but the jury could not reach a verdict about whether Google's actions qualified as fair use. That prompted the judge hearing the case to address whether Oracle could bring a copyright lawsuit to protect its Java API code.
In 2012, US District Court Judge William Alsup denied Oracle's claim that the "structure, sequence, and organization" of its Java APIs are protected under copyright law. He ruled that as long as the code used to implement a specific method differs from Oracle's code, anyone can write code that performs the same function as the methods that form the Java API. "It does not matter that the declaration or method header lines are identical," he wrote in his ruling. "…Duplication of the command structure is necessary for interoperability."
The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington disagreed. "We conclude that the declaring code and the structure, sequence, and organization of the 37 Java API packages at issue are entitled to copyright protection," the ruling states, directing the lower court to reinstate the prior infringement verdict and to return to the undecided issue of whether Google's actions qualify as fair use.
Oracle celebrated the ruling in a statement. "We are extremely pleased that the Federal Circuit denied Google's attempt to drastically limit copyright protection for computer code," said Dorian Daley, Oracle General Counsel, in an email. "The Federal Circuit's opinion is a win for Oracle and the entire software industry that relies on copyright protection to fuel innovation and ensure that developers are rewarded for their breakthroughs. We are confident that the district court will appropriately apply the fair use doctrine on remand, which is not intended to protect naked commercial exploitation of copyrighted material."
Google wasn't ready to say how it will proceed. "We're disappointed by this ruling, which sets a damaging precedent for computer science and software
Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful ... View Full Bio
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