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Supreme Court Rules in Google's Favour; Google Vs Oracle

Google's decade long legal dispute with Oracle over copied code in the Android operating system ended in the US Supreme Court on Monday

In 2010, Oracle sued Google for copyright infringement over what they claimed to be, copied computer code; because Android is used in around 70% of smartphones worldwide, the repercussions of this dispute could have cost billions ($9 was the figure Oracle originally sought). But the Supreme Court on Monday said Google did not violate copyright law when it developed its Android mobile operating system using code from Oracle; overturning a lower court's decision stating that it had infringed copyright. The court ruled six to two in favour of Google, which has major implications for the software industry.

The case concerned about 12,000 lines of code used by Google to build Android were copied from the Java application programming interface developed by Sun Microsystems, which Oracle acquired in 2010. The case was seen as a 'landmark dispute' concerning what types of computer code are protected under copyright law; whether Google's use of Oracle's Java API (known as a widely-used "building block" for programmers) counted as "fair use" under US copyright law. If this was found to be the case, Google's copying of more than 12,000 lines of code would be inconsequential.

Justice Stephen Breyer, who wrote the majority opinion in the case, said that "to allow enforcement of Oracle's copyright here would risk harm to the public". And agreed that Google’s use of the code was protected under fair use, noting that Google took “only what was needed to allow users to put their accrued talents to work in a new and transformative program.” A large number of programmers both used and had deep knowledge of Oracle's building blocks that such a move would turn computer code into "a lock limiting the future creativity of new programs" said Justice Breyer. "Oracle alone would hold the key," he warned.

“We assume, for argument’s sake, that the material was copyrightable,” Justice Stephen G. Breyer stated, “But we hold that the copying here at issue nonetheless constituted a fair use. Hence, Google’s copying did not violate the copyright law.” Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. dissented. Justice Thomas stated that Oracle had a case, partly because Amazon paid Oracle to license Java for its Kindle devices before Google’s use of the technology in Android. As a result of the copying, Justice Thomas wrote that Google had “erased 97.5% of the value of Oracle’s partnership with Amazon, made tens of billions of dollars, and established its position as the owner of the largest mobile operating system in the world. Despite this, the majority holds that this copying was fair use.”. Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who was not yet confirmed by the Senate when the case was argued in October, did not participate in the case.

Google argued that using that code into Android was protected under the “fair use” doctrine that allows the unlicensed use of copyright-protected work in circumstances, when there is no other way to do it, which was the case. Kent Walker, Google’s senior vice president of global affairs said “The Supreme Court’s clear ruling is a victory for consumers, interoperability and computer science,” “The decision gives legal certainty to the next generation of developers whose new products and services will benefit consumers.”Google had won the support of several tech companies during the case, including Microsoft who argued that the appeals court ruling in Oracle’s favor “risks upsetting long-settled expectations” that have allowed a boost to the tech industry by enabling programs to subsume. Walker on Monday stated that "Today's Supreme Court decision in Google v Oracle is a big win for innovation, interoperability and computing," "Thanks to the country's leading innovators, software engineers and copyright scholars for their support."

Oracle have since made clear that it firmly disagrees with the court's judgement, stating that it had further increased Google's power as well as damaging other companies' ability to compete. Dorian Daley, the company's general counsel said in a statement that"They stole Java and spent a decade litigating as only a monopolist can," "This behaviour is exactly why regulatory authorities around the world and in the United States are examining Google's business practices." Since the case, regulators across the USA have filed three lawsuits against the search and advertising giant, including an antitrust case brought in December by over three dozen states.

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