Thursday, 29 March 2018

On Tuesday (27th March 2018), the US Court of Appeals reversed a verdict from July 2016 which ruled that Google had in fact violated the fair-use provision of copyright law when it used lines of Oracle's Java code to build its Android operating system. The court sent the case back to a district court to decide how much Google should pay Oracle. However, Google can appeal to the Supreme Court, which according to the Financial Times, is something they plan on doing.

The case was first filed in 2010 but will now be sent back to a federal court in San Francisco how much Google should pay.

Java, developed by Sun Microsystems and acquired by Oracle in 2010, is one of the most popular programming languages in use today. Oracle had previously sought $9 billion in damages to compensate for Google not paying them royalties. Google used Java to design their Android operating system which powers most of the world's smartphones but they insist that the platform is marketed as being free to use.

Google have warned that the court findings will have a detrimental impact on its users. "We are disappointed the court reversed the jury finding that Java is open and free for everyone," Google spokesman Patrick Lenihan said in a recent statement. "This type of ruling will make apps and online services more expensive for users."

The case revolves around APIs. Software companies have long borrowed APIs from existing products to either ensure compatibility between products or to make it easier for programmers to learn new technologies. Google used the Java APIs in part to make it easier for Java programmers to build Android apps without learning an entirely new language.

Oracle claims that Google was in such a rush in the mid-2000s to crete an operating system for mobile devices that the company used key parts of copyrighted Java technology without paying royalties. As Google make most of their profit through selling advertisements connected to search results, Oracle claim they are facing a "existential threat" as its search was not optimized for mobile devices.

Google responded saying that Oracle were jealous as they achieved what Oracle could not; they developed an operating system for mobile devices that was both free and incredibly popular. Google claim the only use a miniscule percentage of Oracle's code, only enough to enable programmers to write applications for Android in the Java language.

Implications of the Ruling

Tuesday's ruling will have far-reaching implications for the software industry. Annemarie Bridy, a professor of intellectual property at the University of Idaho College of Law has warned that Oracle's latest victory could trigger a wave of other copy infringement cases which could impact the ability of developers to bring new software to market. She states that the ruling "could have a significant chilling effect on software developers," as sompanies such as Google rely on computer code from the likes of Oracle to make apps that communicate with eachother.

Whilst Oracle's application programming interfaces are free to use for those wanting to build apps for computers and mobile devices. However, during the case, the company said those wishing to use them for competing platform or to embed them in an electronic device should be forced to pay compensation.

The judge ruled that "the fact that Android is free of charge does not make Google's use of the Java API packages non-commercial" adding that Android has generated more than $42 billion in revenue from advertising. 

However, this decision won't kill Android (the world's most popular operating system for smartphones). Google switched to a fully open source version of Java starting with the Nougat release of Android in 2016. But it could force many software companies to rewrite parts of their products, even if they're not using Java or any other Oracle software. This is not only likely to be expensive, but could make applications and services from different companies less compatible. 

The dispute has divided Silicon Valley for years between those who develop the code that makes software steps function and those who develop software programs and say their "fair use" of the code is an exception to copyright law.

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