The US Supreme Court on Monday awarded Google an important victory in its long battle against Oracle over copyright, finding that it made a “fair” use of the Java programming language to develop the Android mobile phone operating system.
The decision, adopted by 6 against 2, was followed with much expectation as a key opinion on the issue of copyright in the digital age, which also prevents Google from paying billions to its technological rival.
Judge Stephen Breyer wrote that the use of this language was “fair.” “Therefore, Google’s copy did not violate copyright law,” he evaluated in the 39-page text that includes the opinion of the majority.
The case was to decide whether copyright protection should extend to application programming interfaces (APIs) – the code snippets that allow programs and applications to work together – and, if so, whether Google made a “use fair ”of the material.
The process caught the attention of the entire tech sector and the creative industries, heating up the debate about how far copyright protection should go for snippets of computer code.
Two separate lawsuits had already determined in the first instance that Google’s “software interface” did not use Java code in an unfair way, saving the internet giant a possible multimillion-dollar penalty.
But an appeals court had ruled otherwise in 2018, arguing that the software interface does qualify for protection, prompting Google to raise the case to the highest court in the United States.
Oracle, which acquired the rights to Java in 2010 by acquiring Sun Microsystems – which had supported Google’s use of Java for Android – had sought $ 9 billion in damages in its original lawsuit.
On the other hand, Google decided to abandon Oracle’s financial management software in favor of the German group SAP in the coming weeks, a spokesman for the Californian group confirmed to AFP on Monday.
According to CNBC, which broke the news, the decision is not directly related to the copyright battle between the two companies.
– Threat to innovation? –
Google and several of its allies in Silicon Valley have argued that extending copyright protection to APIs would threaten innovation in the hectic, ever-evolving digital world.
According to Google, a victory for Oracle “would nullify the view of software developers that they are free to use existing software interfaces to create new programs.”
Others considered, however, that the technology giant would be able to perpetrate “an intellectual property theft” with a court victory that, according to them, will make it difficult to protect any digital authorship from misappropriation by China.
Disagreeing, Judge Clarence Thomas, who was also joined by Judge Samuel Alito, wrote that the court should have taken a tighter view of the rights, as Google had copied 11,500 lines of code.
“The court wrongly sidesteps the main question to which we had to answer: is this code protected by copyright? I’d say it is. Computer code occupies a unique space in intellectual property, ”wrote Thomas.
But, according to Breyer, new technologies demand a broader vision.
“The fact that computer programs are primarily functional makes it difficult to apply traditional concepts of intellectual property to this technological world,” he said.
The magistrate added that Google “reimplemented a user interface, taking only what was necessary to allow users to put their accumulated talents to work in a new and transformative program.”
University of Texas Law Professor Steven Vladeck on Twitter considered the decision to be “a victory for Google, but the big question here was evaded,” as the judges did not determine whether this type of code can be protected or not.
For Boston University law professor Tiffany Li, however, the decision is “a great victory for fair use and people who understand how the code works.”