It was recently reported that the jury in Oracle’s case against Google for copyright infringement found that search giant did violate Java copyrights, but likewise were undecided on whether or not the manipulation of the Java APIs in question should be considered fair use. Oracle’s legal team requested that presiding Judge William Alsup rule on the question as a matter of law, only to be denied. Alsup stated that a ruling “wouldn’t be fair,” citing the wealth of evidence introduced during the proceedings.
For a bit of backstory, Google’s trial against Oracle, who is suing over infringement regarding the use of Java in building the Android OS, finally commenced just weeks ago – 18 months after Oracle’s initial complaint. While the main point of contention is whether or not Google violated any copyrights, the trial was to be more about whether or not Oracle can to get a jury to agree that some portions of its Java APIs (application programming interfaces) can be classified as created works of art, and thus protected. The outcome of the trial could set a precedent regarding software developers’ use of open-source content.
While the jury did rule that Google infringed upon Oracle patents, the issue of fair use is still up in the air. According to the U.S. Copyright Office, “The distinction between fair use and infringement may be unclear and not easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission. Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission.” Fair use is also described as being made up of four components:
The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes.
The nature of the copyrighted work.
The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole.
The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work.
It’s clear that Google has used what Oracle has been trying to define as being a protected work of art for Android, in an extremely commercial nature. The ‘potential market or value’ of Android is substantial, though the key component regarding what defines fair use relevant to this stage in the case appears to be what potion of Java code was used in the development of the Android OS. So far, Google has only been found to have infringed upon 9 lines of rangeCheck code found in TimSort.java and ComparableTimSort.java – 9 lines out of the 15 million that comprise Android, which equates to one count of infringement. While Oracle asked Alsup to rule on fair use, Google likewise requested a mistrial, which has yet to be ruled on.
The next phase of the trial will likely surround further classification of the 37 Java APIs in question, a ruling on whether or not any of them are actually copyrighted, which would lead to a better look at the issue of fair use. One count of infringement concerning 9 lines of code out of 15 million doesn’t seem too worthy of much of a fine, though its evident that the Google/Oracle proceedings may have only just begun.