A judge today made a crucial decision in the Google vs. Oracle case when he ruled APIs cannot be copyrighted.
Oracle has taken Google to court, claiming they had infringed Sun Microsystems’ patents in their Android operating system. The judge has now claimed Suns’ APIs cannot be copyrighted and therefore, have not been infringed upon.
Judge William Alsup said 37 such APIs used in Android are not covered by copyright. Oracle has already said they will appeal the ruling.
Alsup’s ruling has effectively left Oracle without any legal foothold in the case, a case which they were counting on winning in order to place a levy on every Android device sold.
Brian Love, a Stanford Law School expert on technology and intellectual property law, told the San Francisco Mercury News today, “This is now effectively a total loss for Oracle, across the board.”
Such an outcome comes as more and more companies are suing one another over small yet crucial elements of their operating systems or hardware. This new ruling also supports other rulings in which copyrights have been denied for basic programming languages.
“To accept Oracle’s claim would be to allow anyone to copyright one version of code to carry out a system of commands and thereby bar all others from writing their own different versions to carry out all or part of the same commands,” writes Alsup in his ruling, according to the Guardian. A programmer himself, Alsup also writes, “No holding has ever endorsed such a sweeping proposition.”
Alsup did mention, however, “This order does not hold that Java API packages are free for all to use without license. Rather, it holds on the specific facts of this case, the particular elements replicated by Google were free for all to use under the Copyright Act.”
Oracle can still win damages for infringements of other copyrights found within the case, though they won’t receive quite the payout they were expecting, only $150,000. Such a settlement would barely cover their legal bills, as this case has already cost both Google and Oracle millions of dollars.
This ruling also adds some insult to injury, as Google attempted to reach a settlement with Oracle before the case went to court. Oracle rejected this settlement, opting instead to bet big on the legal case in hopes to earn themselves millions of dollars in the long run.
On May 7th, a jury found that Google had, in fact, infringed upon 8 of Oracle’s APIs, though they couldn’t determine if Google was using these APIs under a “fair use” provision of US law. Alsup’s decision today renders their findings moot. Alsup also said in his ruling. “a system or method of operation under Section 102(b) of the Copyright Act and, therefore, cannot be copyrighted … the Act confers ownership only over the specific way in which the author wrote out his version. Others are free to write their own implementation to accomplish the identical function, for, importantly, ideas, concepts and functions cannot be monopolized by copyright.”
In order for Oracle to overturn Alsup’s damming ruling, they would have to persuade Alsup to take their side in lengthy legal arguments, then take the case in front of another jury.