The US Supreme Court has handed Google a decisive victory in its decade-long battle with Oracle over the Android operating system (OS).
Google made the decision early on to make Android compatible with the Java programming language and libraries. The decision was a smart move, since Java is one of the most popular programming languages, and that popularity helped jumpstart Android’s application ecosystem.
Sun Microsystems, the original owner of Java, was supportive of Google’s decision. That changed, however, once Oracle bought Sun and the rights to Java. Oracle immediately launched legal action against Google, claiming it illegally copied the Java application programming interfaces (API).
Google responded by claiming (correctly) that programmers use other companies’ APIs all the time to ensure their software is compatible with other software and services. As a result, Google argued that a win for Oracle would have severely damaging repercussions for the entire software development industry.
Major companies and organizations backed Google in the fight, highlighting the existential threat to the software development community that Oracle’s case posed. If Oracle won, everything from everyday software to the Linux operating system could be under threat.
After a decade of court battles, the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of Google, 6-2. In writing or the majority, Justice Stephen G. Breyer noted the following:
In reviewing that decision, we assume, for argument’s sake, that the material was copyrightable. But we hold that the copying here at issue nonetheless constituted a fair use. Hence, Google’s copying did not violate the copyright law.
The win is good news for Google, and even better news for the software industry.