Earlier today, a federal jury adjudged in favour of Google in the prolonged case of copyright faceoff between the Mountain View technology giant and Oracle. The jury of 10 unanimously judged that Google’s re-implementation of 37 Java APIs, or Application Programming Interfaces, will not be considered as infringement of Oracle-owned copyrights. The subsequent usage of the APIs in Android operating system is protected by "fair use" of the technology.
The trial, which began earlier in May, had only one question to be answered in the special verdict form, whether Google’s use of the Java APIs would be deemed as "fair use". All of the 10 jurors unanimously agreed to it. In a statement reflecting on the judgement, Google said, "Today's verdict that Android makes fair use of Java APIs represents a win for the Android ecosystem, for the Java programming community, and for software developers who rely on open and free programming languages to build innovative consumer products."
"The trial, five years on the brew, can amount to as much as $9 billion"
Oracle’s statement, however, remains in firm belief that Google has illegally implemented core Java technology. Dorian Daley, General Counsel of Oracle, stated in a statement to Ars Technica, “We strongly believe that Google developed Android by illegally copying core Java technology to rush into the mobile device market. 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.”
The trial, five years on the brew, can amount to as much as $9 billion, as per an initial Oracle report. The company sued Google on copyright infringement back in 2010, months after it completed the purchase of Sun Microsystems. An initial judgement given by a US District Judge in 2012 had stated that APIs cannot be held under copyrights, but was later overturned on appeal. In today’s judgement, Google poised its stance by stating that the APIs in question constituted “fair use”.
Oracle’s counter-argument stated in front of the jury that Google had copied parts of the Java APIs, taking a “shortcut at Oracle’s expense”. Google’s reply stated that Java has always been an open-use platform, and even Sun Microsystems had acknowledged Android as a legitimate competitor, albeit one that has notably cratered Java’s prosperity. With the advent and rise of smartphones, Android has found massive acceptance worldwide, while Oracle-owned Java and its licensing revenues has gone down with dwindling number of feature phones around.
"This, in short, can change the way how developers work"
All of this holds massive significance for the two giants of the software industry, and for individual developers who code to earn their livelihood. The judgement given by the federal jury earlier today would certainly not be the ultimatum, and Oracle will be taking it up to the Federal Circuit on appeal. Once the final judgement is out, this case has the potential to set precedence on how APIs are to be used in future. This, in short, can change the way how developers work, the degree of independence they would have in making an app, and the level of influence that big companies will play. The judgement will be particularly crucial for developers working with open source software, and can bring massive changes to set industry practices. The wider consensus on this matter has most agreeing that if Oracle emerges victorious out of this lawsuit, it would largely disturb and alter the freedom and ease of software development, along with disrupting the financial transactions involved.
Either way, Oracle has already spent a considerable amount of time and revenue behind pursuing Google’s allegedly “illegal” use of the Java APIs. Upon its next case, Oracle will be looking to uphold the reported copyrights that it holds on the 37 APIs in question, and the Federal Circuit has been known to rule in favour of patent holders and copyright owners.
Much reason to worry? Not yet, but...