Supreme Court to consider Oracle's copyright clash with Google

Nothing less than billions of dollars and the future of software development are at stake.
Written by Stephanie Condon, Senior Writer

The Supreme Court on Friday said it would take up Oracle's long-running dispute with Google over Google's use of Java APIs to build the Android mobile operating system. By taking up the case, the high court will by July of next year put to rest an epic legal battle with billions of dollars at stake, as well as the future of software development. 

The Supreme Court will review last year's decision from the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which sided with Oracle.

Oracle took the internet giant to court in 2010, claiming that Google owed it upwards of $9 billion for using 37 Java API packages without paying copyright licensing fees. In 2016, Google successfully convinced a jury in federal court that its use of the APIs amounted to "fair use." However, the appeals court reversed that ruling two years later. 

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 have warned the 2014 ruling would have a chilling effect on developers, and they've looked to Google's "fair use" argument to mitigate that impact.

In US District Court back in 2016, 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, has 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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