Google infringed on Oracle copyright, jury finds

The jury in the copyright phase of the epic court battle has decided that Google did infringe on Oracle's copyright in Android, but has left it to the judge to decide if Google was covered by fair use

Google infringed on Oracle's copyright in its code for 37 Java API packages, but the question of whether it was legally allowed to do so remains open, the jury in the Google-Oracle trial has decided.

In a verdict that came through on Monday, the jury said it was unable to decide whether Google's implementation of the Java APIs in Android fell under the 'fair use' exception to copyright. Unless Google prevails in its call for a mistrial, judge William Alsup will now have to decide whether APIs are copyrightable at all.

Google has argued that Sun, which was in charge of Java before Oracle bought Sun, had given Android a warm welcome without demanding that Google license Java. Oracle has argued that Google does need a licence and always did.

"Oracle, the nine million Java developers and the entire Java community thank the jury for their verdict in this phase of the case," Oracle said in a statement. "The overwhelming evidence demonstrated that Google knew it needed a licence and that its unauthorised fork of Java in Android shattered Java's central write-once-run-anywhere principle."

However, Google issued a statement suggesting that fair use and infringement are "two sides of the same coin".

"The core issue is whether the APIs here are copyrightable, and that's for the court to decide. We expect to prevail on this issue and Oracle's other claims," it said.

The jury found that Android contained nine lines of copyrighted Java code — specifically, the rangeCheck function — but it cleared Google of copyright infringement in its documentation for the API packages and English-language comments in the source code.

The judge needs decide whether copyright even applies to APIs.

– Julie Samuels, EFF

Crucially, the jurors agreed with Google that Sun and Oracle had "engaged in conduct that would have reasonably led Google to believe it would not need a licence to use the structure, sequence and organisation of the copyrighted compilable code".

However, they did not agree that Google had proved it had "reasonably relied on that conduct in deciding to use the code". Oracle has claimed that Google was intent on copying the code with or without permission.

Copyrighting APIs

"There is a dangerous potential outcome if we can start copyrighting APIs, because copyright does not contemplate the protection of functional computer programming. It does contemplate protection of what you can create with the programming languages or programs like APIs," Julie Samuels, an attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told ZDNet UK's sister site CNET News.

Google has now called for Alsup to declare a mistrial for the copyright phase of the trial — a separate patent phase is still to come — and will put forward its arguments for that decision on Tuesday and Thursday.

If Alsup agrees to the mistrial, then the 'fair use' question will remain unresolved. However, as Samuels pointed out, if he does not, then the issue of the copyrightability of APIs will remain unresolved.

"If Google is found to have made fair use of the APIs, then we'll never get to the question of whether they were copyrightable," Samuels noted. "The judge needs decide whether copyright even applies to APIs."

"All these have to happen before Google is on the hook for copyright infringement. Once that happens we'll get an appeal, and this could go on for years," she noted.

Get the latest technology news and analysis, blogs and reviews delivered directly to your inbox with ZDNet UK's newsletters.