Oracle V Google Android Case Settled
Written by Mike James   
Monday, 05 April 2021

At long last the 10 year case between Oracle and Google over the copyright or otherwise of the APIs used in Android is settled, the SCOTUS verdict is in.

And we can all breath easy. In a nutshell - Android is safe and so is our ability to recast APIs to create something new.

If you don't know the history then read 10 Years On: Oracle V Google Still Ongoing but essentially Oracle, caretaker of Java, decided that Google's use of the Java in Android and in particular the re-implementation of the Java API was an infringement of copyright. After an initial win for Google things got increasingly depressing for anyone wanting to trust that Android would be their in the future or wanting to implement an existing API. In particular, the Trump administration seemed to be siding with Oracle and the idea that APIs were copyrightable.

To review the details over the proceedings over the past decade see the list of Related Articles below.

The Supreme Court, which heard the argument on October 7, 2020, has finally ruled that:

“Google’s copying of the API to reimplement a user interface, taking only what was needed to allow users to put their accrued talents to work in a new and transformative program, constituted a fair use of that material”

The Supreme Court ruled in a 6-2 opinion, with one justice (Amy Coney Barrett) not taking part in the ruling. It overturned an earlier federal decision, which found that Google’s use of the API had constituted infringement.

What is more SCOTUS, in its 62-page judgment, seems to have grasped some of the subtleties:

"Finally, given programmers’ investment in learning the Sun Java API, to allow enforcement of Oracle’s copyright here would risk harm to the public. Given the costs and difficulties of producing alternative APIs with similar appeal to programmers, allowing enforcement here would make of the Sun Java API’s declaring code a lock limiting the future creativity of new programs. Oracle alone would hold the key."

The ruling is an interesting read for any programmer, but the bottom line is that, not only is Google in the clear for its use of the Java API, we are all much better placed to re-implement any API that we care to - as long as we don't copy the inner workings.

On a more parochial note, you can't help wonder if this long-running uncertainty over Android has had effects that will resonate for longer than the ruling. For example, had they been confident of this outcome would Google have embraced Kotlin so entusiastically? Would they have dropped plans for their updated Java complier? And would the Fuchsia operating system exist.

 

 

More Information

GOOGLE LLC v. ORACLE AMERICA, INC (pdf)

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Supreme Court Refuses To Reconsider API Copyright Decision

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Last Updated ( Monday, 05 April 2021 )