Tuesday, 19 November 2019 10:04

Supreme Court agrees to hear Oracle-Google copyright case

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Supreme Court agrees to hear Oracle-Google copyright case Pixabay

The long-running Google-Oracle court case will continue to be litigated for some time yet, with the US Supreme Court agreeing to decide whether Oracle should receive compensation from Google for copyright infringement.

The case has been around since 2010 when Oracle sued Google shortly after it purchased Sun Microsystems and became the owner of Java, claiming that the search engine company had violated its copyright and patents. Google was accused of taking more than 11,000 lines of code from Java APIs and using it in Android without any commercial agreement.

That case ended in 2012 with Google being largely the victor. The presiding judge, Justice William Alsup, ruled that APIs could not be copyrighted.

But an appeal gave Oracle what it wanted: a ruling that APIs could be copyrighted.

In a second trial that ended in May 2016, a jury found that Google's use of the Java APIs in Android was covered under fair use. As expected, Oracle was not happy with the verdict.

Oracle initiated an appeal in February 2017 having indicated after the May 2016 verdict that it would not take a backward step. In August 2016, Oracle tried to get the verdict set aside, but was this was refused by Justice Alsup. Later the same year, the database giant filed the necessary papers to prolong the battle.

Finally, on 28 March, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit came to the conclusion that Google's use of the Java APIs was "not fair as a matter of law".

In August 2018, the US Federal Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Google's bid to have the case reheard. This meant that the decision — that Google's use of the Java APIs was "not fair as a matter of law" — would stand, and the search giant would have to fork out US$8.8 to billion to Oracle or else try to take the case to the Supreme Court – as it did on Thursday.

Google then went to the Supreme Court this year, seeking to have the highest court in the US again rule on the dispute.

The Trump administration has backed Oracle, saying that though the appeals court's ruling was not entirely "free from doubt", on balance the Federal Circuit Court had gotten it right.

Solicitor-General Noel Francisco wrote: “Google copied 11,500 lines of computer code verbatim, as well as the complex structure and organization inherent in that code, in order to help its competing commercial product.

He added: “Unauthorised copying harmed the market for respondent’s Java platform.”

The court is likely to hear the case in the first half of 2020.


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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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