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.