The United States Supreme Court on Monday offered a resounding victory for Google in its legal battle against the American software publisher Oracle, a multi-billion dollar saga over the copyright of the Java programming language. In its decision, the highest American court considers that Google has used “Legitimate” Java code in the development of its Android operating system.
“We came to the conclusion that in this case, where Google reused a user interface by taking only what was necessary to allow users to make use of their cumulative talents, Google’s copy of the user interface. Sun Java programming (API) represents a legitimate use of this content from a legal point of view ”, writes Justice Stephen Breyer for the majority.
Six members of the high court have come out in favor of Google and two have come out against it. Amy Coney Barrett, appointed by Donald Trump, but who had not yet been confirmed by the Senate when the Supreme Court took up the case, did not participate in the judgment.
A “victory for consumers”
In the original complaint, Oracle claimed $ 9 billion in damages from Google for copying more than 11,000 lines of computer code to develop its Android operating system, used by billions of mobile devices around the world. Two courts of first instance had ruled in favor of Google, but a federal court of appeal had taken the opposite course in 2018, pushing the Californian giant to turn to the Supreme Court.
“The clear Supreme Court judgment is a victory for consumers, for interoperability and for IT”, said Kent Walker, head of global operations at Google. “The decision provides legal certainty for the next generation of developers whose new products and services will benefit consumers. ” For several years, Google and several of its allies in Silicon Valley have defended the idea that an extension of the notion of copyright to APIs would constitute a serious threat to digital innovation.
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For its part, Oracle apologized for the Supreme Court’s decision and renewed its attacks against the search engine giant. “Google’s platform has just grown and its market power has strengthened”, reacted Dorian Daley, legal director of Oracle. “Barriers to entry have risen and the ability to compete has diminished. They stole Java and spent a decade suing like only a monopoly holder can. “This attitude is the very reason regulators in the United States and around the world are examining Google’s practices.”, he added.
At the same time, Google has decided to abandon Oracle’s financial management software in the coming weeks in favor of that of the German group SAP, a spokesperson for the Californian group confirmed to AFP on Monday. According to CNBC, which revealed this information, this decision is not, however, directly linked to the battle over copyright between the two companies.
The debate is not over
For John Bergmayer of the Public Knowledge organization, which specializes in intellectual property issues, the Supreme Court’s decision makes sense. “The jury of the first instance courts had concluded that Google’s use of the Java API was legitimate use and the Court reached the same conclusion with its own analysis”.
The expert notes, however, that the court has not clearly decided whether or not the programming interfaces should be protected by copyright. “One day or another, the Court or Congress will have to answer this question, because a ruling that APIs should not be copyrighted would benefit competition and interoperability in many ways. “, says Bergmayer.
In a dissenting argument, Judge Clarence Thomas, who voted against Google, writes on the other hand that the Supreme Court should have applied the principles of copyright protection. “The Court unfairly avoided answering the main question put to us: is the declaration of a code protected by copyright? I believe so. Computer codes occupy a unique place for intellectual property ”, defends Judge Thomas.