Google’s use of Java APIs in Android – fair use?


The District Court of the Northern District of California held last week that Google’s use of 37 Java APIs of Oracle does not give rise to copyright infringement liability because it is fair use. On remand from the Federal Circuit, in a Jury trial, Google’s use of Java APIs and around eleven thousand lines of code was held to be fair use as it is meant to promote inter-operability and compatibility between programs. You may read our earlier post for a short history of this case here.

On receiving news of the victory, Google stated that the judgment supports the open ecosystem for software development and furthers progress of Android operating system. Oracle on the other hand stated that Google copied core elements of Java to build Android quickly, and that the act cannot amount to fair use. The company has announced that it would be appealing the decision of the District Court.

The reaction to Google’s victory has been mixed to say the least. While some are applauding it as the victory of open source community over proprietary software owners, others in the open source community are skeptical about its impact. While they agree that a favourable decision is good, they do not necessarily agree with copyrightability of sequence, structure and organization of APIs and the analysis of the fair use doctrine. Coming from another angle, Proponents of proprietary software models submit that Google should have taken a license from Oracle like other entities.

The debate is on, and I doubt if this will be the end of this case. The case will surely return to the Federal Circuit and we will definitely see action again. Though the US Supreme Court had earlier reviewed and denied the writ of certiorari, this one feels is a fit case for the apex court to decide once for all. As this and other cases proceed, one cannot help observing the expansion of defenses to IP infringement. Ten years down the line, I doubt if humanity will give IP as much value as it is being given today.


Authored by Dr. Kalyan C. Kankanala

Image source / attribution here, this image is in public domain.