A US federal court has ruled that Oracle’s Java programming interfaces can be protected by copyright, in a blow to Google
Oracle has won a victory in its four-year-old court battle with Google, after a US appeals court ruled that its Java application programming interfaces (APIs) can be protected by US copyright law.
Oracle is seeking more than $1 billion (£630m) in the case, which began in 2010 with a lawsuit against Google that claimed the company improperly incorporated the “structure, sequence and organisation” of 37 Java APIs into Android, the world’s best-selling smartphone operating system.
Google has argued that its use of the APIs was permissible under the “fair use” exception to copyright law, and that furthermore such use is necessary for progammers to be able to create interoperable software.
The ruling means uncertainty for programmers who want to create interoperable software, Google said. “We’re disappointed by this ruling, which sets a damaging precedent for computer science and software development, and are considering our options,” Google stated.
Oracle said it was “extremely pleased” with the ruling, which it said is a win for “the entire software industry that relies on copyright protection to fuel innovation”.
“The fair use doctrine… is not intended to protect naked commercial exploitation of copyrighted material,” Oracle stated.
A federal judge at a San Francisco District Court had agreed with Google that the APIs were not subject to copyright, but Friday’s decision by a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington reversed that decision and referred the case back to the San Francisco District Court, where a jury will have to decide whether Google’s use of the APIs was protected.
“We conclude that a set of commands to instruct a computer to carry out desired operations may contain expression that is eligible for copyright protection,” wrote Federal Circuit Judge Kathleen O’Malley in the court’s decision. “We find that the district court failed to distinguish between the threshold question of what is copyrightable — which presents a low bar — and the scope of conduct that constitutes infringing activity.”
Google had argued that software should be protected by patents, and not copyright law, but O’Malley wrote that the Federal Circuit court is bound to respect copyright protection “until either the Supreme Court or Congress tells us otherwise”.
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