Today, the United States Supreme Court announced that it will hear the dispute between Google and Oracle, a fight that has been going on since at least 2010 (via CNBC). The Google-Oracle fight could have incredible ramifications for Android and copyright law in general, depending on how the Supreme Court rules on the case.
In 2010, Oracle accused Google of using about 11,500 lines of Java code in the Android operating system. This Java code, Oracle claims, is Oracle’s copyrighted property. Thus, Google is allegedly violating copyright by incorporating it within Android. Oracle is seeking damages that could amount to billions of dollars.
Over the years that the case has dragged on, Google has won a pair of victories in the lower courts. However, it lost an appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, a ruling that came down in March of last year.
Oracle did not create the Java programming language. Instead, it bought Java’s creator Sun Microsystems in 2010 for $7.4 billion and is using this court case as a way to defend its purchased copyright.
Google claims that the 11,500 lines of code in question are not copyrightable and are instead functional — as an analogy, think of a company trying to copyright the order and placement of the keys on a computer keyboard. Oracle disagrees with this interpretation and says the lines of code are a creative product.
If the Supreme Court finds in favor of Oracle, it could mean that the Android operating itself is violating Oracle’s copyright. This would entitle Oracle to massive amounts of money in damages as well as future licensing payments going forward.
However, a ruling in favor of Oracle could set a significant precedent in the world of copyright law, allowing people to claim ownership of things that, to date, no one has been able to claim before.
Members of the Trump administration have expressed support for Oracle’s side of the argument, while major players in the tech sector — including Microsoft and Mozilla — expressed support for Google.
The Supreme Court’s final decision will come sometime between now and July 2020.