Google and Oracle are heading back to court today, this time to decide the copyright status of the 37 Java APIs used in Android. Google originally won the case against the owners of the Java programming language, but then Oracle, with the support of the US Court of Appeals, successfully claimed copyright protection for APIs as creative works. With that ruling in their back pocket, Oracle is now seeking $9.3 billion for copyright infringement.
The issue at hand is that Google is claiming its use of the 37 APIs falls under “fair use”. Java itself is free to use and Google claims it “reworked” existing APIs into something similar but arguably different enough to not be actual copies. Naturally, Oracle disagrees and is claiming exorbitant damages, while Google claims Oracle has misconstrued the value of the 37 APIs with the entire value of Android.
Oracle is very unlikely to win its proposed damages claim, but there is a very strong possibility that it will receive some money from Google. Android has grown exponentially over the years since the case was first brought to court and while Google has recently made the shift to OpenJDK in Android N, a six year history of Java APIs could still cost it a pretty penny.
If Oracle is successful, Google won't be the only one to suffer.
If Oracle is successful, Google won’t be the only one to suffer either. Countless software developers will also be on the hook for using Java APIs and may well find themselves having to argue fair use against claims of copyright infringement for calling on a copyrighted API. Google is, of course, the biggest and richest fish to try to land, but if Oracle wins it will have a powerful precedent for use in other potential cases.
However, Google isn’t alone in its rejection of Oracle’s claims, regarding them as frivolous and overblown. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has also argued against the Court of Appeals’ decision, citing multiple instances of opposing precedents that support Google’s claims. The EFF warns against restricting developers’ ability to call on APIs for fear of legal reprisal, calling the legal ramifications a “radical shift” that could “upend the economics of software”.
What are your thoughts on this case? Is Google liable for damages?