Google prevails over Oracle in copyright infringement case

The Internet giant convinced a jury that its use of Java APIs to build the Android OS amounted to "fair use."
Written by Stephanie Condon, Senior Writer

Google has prevailed in its legal battle with Oracle over its use of Java APIs to build its Android mobile operating system.

Oracle took the internet giant to court, claiming that Google owed it billions for using the 37 API packages without paying copyright licensing fees. However, Google successfully convinced a jury in federal court that its use of the APIs amounted to "fair use."

The verdict is a huge win for Google -- had the jury sided with Oracle, a second phase of the trial would have started to assess what Google owed. Oracle was seeking upwards of $9 billion, far higher than any other copyright verdict ever awarded.

Still, the years-long court battle isn't over, Oracle says.

"We strongly believe that Google developed Android by illegally copying core Java technology to rush into the mobile device market," Oracle general counsel Dorian Daley said in a statement. "Oracle brought this lawsuit to put a stop to Google's illegal behavior. We believe there are numerous grounds for appeal and we plan to bring this case back to the Federal Circuit on appeal."

Oracle first took Google to court over the Java APIs in 2010, months after it acquired Sun Microsystems. Sun developed Java in the 1990s, and when Google started building the Android OS, it entered into talks to form some kind of licensing agreement with Sun. However, it ultimately ended up walking away from those talks and using the APIs freely.

While Google and others have argued that APIs shouldn't be subject to copyright protection, a U.S. Court of Appeals in 2014 ruled that copyright law did indeed apply to the Java APIs. Those siding with Google warned the ruling could have a chilling effect on developers, but Google's successful use of the "fair use" argument should mitigate that impact.

During closing arguments on Monday in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco, Google attorney Robert Van Nest summed up the internet giant's case, arguing that the APIs served a purely functional purpose. At the same time, using the APIs to build the OS was a truly "transformative" use. Google engineers, he said, "built Android from scratch, using new Google technology, and adapted technology from open sources. Android was a remarkable thing, a brand-new platform for innovation."

Oracle, meanwhile, argued that Google caused substantial market harm by using the APIs freely, since it influenced other licensing agreements. The Oracle team also pointed to emails that suggested Android developers knew they were obligated to pay a licensing fee for the APIs.

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