A federal appeals court ruled today that Google violated U.S. copyright laws when it used Java software code to build its Android platform. As a result, the online search giant could owe Oracle—the current owner of Java’s copyrights—billions of dollars.
“We are disappointed the court reversed the jury finding that Java is open and free for everyone,” a Google statement notes. “This type of ruling will make apps and online services more expensive for users. We are considering our options.”
There aren’t many left, frankly: Google and Oracle have escalated this case through virtually every available court level there is. And the next trial will focus exclusively on the damages. Which could be in the billions. Oracle was seeking $9 billion in damages, and legal experts predict that the payout in the case will at least exceed the highest-ever for a copyright case, which was $1.3 billion. Oracle may even raise its damages demand given the pervasiveness of Android.
The Java lawsuit against Sun was originally launched in 2009 by Java’s creator, Sun Microsystems. But when that firm was acquired by Oracle in 2010, it added two counts of patent infringement to the charges. Oracle alleged that Google illegally used Java to create Android, which powers 85 percent of the world’s mobile devices.
And by “used Java,” I mean that Google “copy and pasted 11,000 lines of Java code,” a fact that Google co-founder Larry Page admitted to in court, in 2016.
In 2012, a federal jury decided that Java, as software code, is not protected by U.S. copyright laws. But an appeals court overturned that ruling two years later. So another jury in 2016 determined that Google’s use of Java was legal under the fair use doctrine. Oracle then appealed that ruling. And today’s verdict indicates that they have won the case.
“There is nothing fair about taking a copyrighted work verbatim,” the federal appeals court ruled.
<blockquote><a href="#257240"><em>In reply to MikeGalos:</em></a></blockquote><p>"The other key distinction being which declarations are for public APIs and which are for internal implementation APIs."</p><p><br></p><p>The distinction between public and non-public can't really be justified if you're made the source for both open. True non-public APIs are protected as a trade-secret, not just by copyright. </p>
<blockquote><a href="#257352"><em>In reply to MikeGalos:</em></a></blockquote><p>You disagree with me, I get that, but your analogy doesn't make any sense. </p><p><br></p><p>The public interest in allowing a third-party to duplicate parts of copyrighted code for interoperability and other purposes just doesn't exist for plain text. And the "internal implementation" that you asserted was relevant to the discussion of copyrighted code has no analog in a book.</p><p><br></p><p>The point is that when all the source code is available to everyone, there's no definitive basis for deciding public vs internal, but if the code a company considers internal is not revealed they can establish in court their specific intention to classify that code differently. That may or many not be an effective legal argument, but in my non-lawyer opinion it's a stronger one than merely asserting "internalness" down the road.</p>
<blockquote><a href="#257418"><em>In reply to MikeGalos:</em></a></blockquote><p>The limits on copyright with respect to software were established by court cases in which the plaintiffs didn't concede any exceptions, so clearly the copyright holder is not sole entity that determines copyright scope.</p><p><br></p><p>As far as your "equivalent" statement, did Sun officially establish pubic APIs and declare that they were not covered by copyright? </p>
<blockquote><a href="#257407"><em>In reply to William_Kempf:</em></a></blockquote><p>I didn't say anything about the theft of intellectual property. I didn't claim that publishing source code erases copyright. I said that keeping so-called "internal" APIs secret would establish a distinction between those APIs and the others, thus helping protect the former from the kind of exceptions on copyright that courts have long established. </p><p><br></p><p>While it may not be applicable to copyright, I was thinking of the kind of steps that businesses use to maintain their trademarks. Years ago Xerox used to place advertisements in writer's magazines asking them to refrain from using the verb "Xeroxing" since it was a trademark. They did that to establish due diligence in protecting the trademark. Now, I don't think this has ever been argued for copyright and perhaps never will be, but that's the "flavor" of what I was arguing. </p>
<blockquote><a href="#257548"><em>In reply to William_Kempf:</em></a></blockquote><p>1. I stated at the start that it might not be valid.</p><p><br></p><p>2. There's a big difference between what can be discovered through reverse engineering a Java or C# program and explicitly making it open source. </p><p><br></p><p>3. When I dispute a claim made about the past, I'm obviously not making any claim about the present or the future. </p>
<p>It's sad that in recent decades competition through litigation has taken precedence over creating great products. Sun effectively killed Java on Windows by suing Microsoft and now Oracle has potentially put another nail in it's coffin. Using Java for Android was, IMO, both a technological and strategic mistake. Even if WORA were really true for Java (hint: it isn't) Android is used almost exclusively with ARM.</p><p><br></p><p>I suppose that Sun will probably just pay Oracle since so much Android code is based on Java, but I'd prefer they move on to a different language (but, God, no, not JS). Perhaps then there were be a major IDE for Android that isn't Java based.</p>
<blockquote><a href="#257233"><em>In reply to skane2600:</em></a></blockquote><p>Not sure what you mean. Like it's OK for a company to copy your work, make perhaps 100s of billions, and you get zero? Really odd how "litigation" is bad only in some cases. Perhaps courts are there for a reason?</p><p>Its a good bet here that none of this is surprising or unexpected to Google. It's not like they don't know how the court system works or possible interpretations of copyright law. At the end of the day they played off popularity vs. written law, just like music pirates. </p><p>At the end of the day $9 Billion is a fantastic bargain for what they gained from Android. They got to use software that was immediately available and widely compatible to speed to market, thereby elbowing out formidable competitors like Microsoft or Blackberry etc who were trying to do things "properly"(how quaint), create a business worth may $200B+ to their market cap, and they get to drag this through decades of litigation at the end of which maybe just maybe pay less than $10B? Gosh what a bargain.</p>
<blockquote><a href="#257241"><em>In reply to RR:</em></a></blockquote><p>As can be seen by the differing opinions by different courts, it was not settled law that what Google did violated copyright. There have been other tech cases where courts limited how much protection copyright could afford: Apple Computer, Inc. v. Microsoft Corp. and Lotus Development Corp. v. Borland International, Inc.</p><p><br></p><p>I disagree that Google "got to use software that was immediately available and widely compatible to speed to market". How many significant Java programs could run on Android without modification? Java provided no unique benefits to Android, many other languages would have done just as well.</p>
<blockquote><a href="#257284"><em>In reply to Roger Ramjet:</em></a></blockquote><p>Sorry, I'm rarely convinced by ad hominem or appeal to authority arguments. Judges can be biased or wrong just as juries can be.</p>
<blockquote><a href="#257355"><em>In reply to Roger Ramjet:</em></a></blockquote><p>You're right, there was no ad hominem argument in the statement you quoted. I made an assertion that may or may not be true, but that's not sufficient to meet the definition.</p>
<p>Pay now or pay later. Could not happen to a nicer company.</p>
<blockquote><a href="#257503"><em>In reply to Mike_Brady:</em></a></blockquote><p>It was to the extent that it infected Microsoft with paranoia which led them to do foolish things to solve a non-existent problem. :)</p>