The Associated PressApr 6, 2021 4:26:13 PM IST
Tech companies sighed with relief Monday after the Supreme Court sided with Google in a copyright dispute with Oracle. The high court said that Google did nothing wrong by copying the code to develop the Android operating system that is now used in most smartphones. To create Android, which was released in 2007, Google wrote millions of lines of new computer code. It also used around 11,500 lines of copyrighted code as part of Oracle’s Java platform. Oracle had sued for billions.
But the Supreme Court sided with Google 6-2, describing the copy as “fair use.” The result is what most tech companies, both large and small, have been supporting. Both Microsoft and IBM were among the industry heavyweights who had submitted reports backing Google in the case. They and others warned that ruling against the Mountain View, California-based company could have profound consequences, stifling innovation and disrupting software development.
Oracle had won the backing of the film and recording industries, as well as publishers, who favor expansive copyright protections to protect their profits from books, articles, films, television shows, and music. The Trump administration had also backed Oracle.
In his opinion to the majority of the court, Judge Stephen Breyer wrote that Google “took only what was needed” and that “Google copying was transformative,” a word the court has used “to describe a use of copying. that adds something new and important. “
Google had said its actions were a common and long-established practice in the industry, a practice that has been good for technical progress. He said there is no copyright protection for the purely functional, non-creative computer code he used, something that could not be written any other way. But Oracle, based in Austin, Texas, argued that Google “committed an egregious act of plagiarism.”
The case has been going on for a decade. Google won the first round when a judge rejected Oracle’s copyright claim, but that decision was overturned on appeal. Later, a jury sided with Google, but an appeals court again disagreed.
Breyer wrote that in reviewing the lower court’s decision, the justices assumed “for the sake of argument, that the material was copyrighted.”
“But we contend that the copy here in question is nonetheless fair use. Therefore, the Google copy did not violate copyright law, ”he wrote.
At one point in the decision, Breyer used a recipe search robot as part of an analogy to explain how the code works. At another point, he invoked a short one-sentence story to acknowledge that copying a small amount could still be meaningful. Breyer included both the story, originally in Spanish, and its translation: “When he woke up, the dinosaur was still there.”
Judge Clarence Thomas wrote in a disagreement joined by Judge Samuel Alito that he believed that “the Oracle code in question here is copyrighted, and Google’s use of that copyrighted code was anything but fair. “.
Only eight judges heard the case because it was argued in October, after the death of Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg but before Judge Amy Coney Barrett joined the court.
In a statement, Google Chief Legal Officer Kent Walker called the ruling a “victory for consumers, interoperability and computing.” “The decision provides legal certainty for the next generation of developers whose new products and services will benefit consumers,” Walker wrote.
Oracle’s Chief Legal Officer Dorian Daley condemned the result. “The Google platform has just grown and its market power is greater. The barriers to entry are higher and the ability to compete lower. They stole Java and spent a decade litigating as only a monopolist can, ”he wrote in a statement.
Oracle’s dogged prosecution of a case had been widely ridiculed by other technology companies as gross misapplication of copyright law. They argued that it threatened to make it difficult for different computer programs to work together and could stifle innovation among startups that might not be able to pay royalties for some strands of coding.
Privacy Lab founder at Yale Law School Sean O’Brien said both amateur and professional software developers will now “sleep a little easier without worrying that innovation and collaboration will be hampered by new ones. restrictions “.
The Computer & Communications Industry Association, a major trade group, was among the tech voices celebrating the Supreme Court decision. The court decision will also be good news for independent software developers, small startups and others who are playing with the code, said Tiffany Li, a visiting law professor at Boston University.
“This decision probably won’t change the way startups and software developers operate. It just confirms how they have already been operating, ”Li said, adding that if Oracle had won that could have hurt a lot of developers because it would have been contrary to how the community works today.
The case is Google LLC v. Oracle America Inc, 18-956.