Google vs. Oracle: A Copyright Battle

Google had a major victory on May 26, 2016 when a jury threw out Oracle’s $9 billion claim against them. The battle between the two technology giants started in 2010 when Oracle claimed that Google needed a license to use its Java programming language for its Android phones and technology. Oracle claimed that since Google had earned over $20 billion in profit by selling its Android phones, they deserved $8.8 billion in damages and $475 million in lost licensing revenue. In 2014, a Federal Appeals Court had ruled in favor of Oracle saying that the company had a valid copyright over its coding language. The Supreme Court declined to hear this appeal.

In the latest round of the case, which was heard in California’s Northern District Federal Court in San Francisco, the jury concluded that Google did not infringe on Oracle’s copyrights with its Java language. Throughout the hearing, Google said they had used Oracle’s API language to innovate new technologies, not copy their software. Experts say that Google relied on a “free-market” argument to win.  Oracle says they are planning to appeal the jury’s decision, but legal experts say it would be very difficult to reverse the decision in favor of Oracle.

What does this verdict mean?

This verdict has allowed many technology companies to breathe a sigh of relief. Google’s win gives other companies reassurance that they will be able to use common methods of software technology without infringing copyright claims. In other words, software can be widely used by many companies without starting a legal battle. However, some experts say Google won the case because of the vast amount of resources at its disposal. They say it is likely that a smaller company would have lost against Oracle.

The issue of whether Oracle’s coding deserved copyright protections is highly debated. While some are glad to see Google’s victory, others are concerned about what constitutes copyright protections. This case did not set any legal precedent because fair use rulings are made on a case-by-case basis. If Oracle decides to appeal the decision, one of the only ways they will be able to do so would be by saying that jury instructions on the legal issues were flawed. Whether or not Oracle appeals, and on what basis, is something we have to wait to see. While the impact of this ruling may not be felt yet, legal experts say similar rulings can have a “chilling effect” on developers.

Sources referenced:

  1. Bloomberg Technology
  2. The Verge

 

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