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Nobody wins...

Oracle vs Google – Jury find Java copyright infringement, but can’t decide on fair use

Chris Mayer

Monday provided arguably the most confusing day in court yet. From the outset Oracle looked victorious, but delving deeper reveals no winners

After lengthy deliberations, the jury in the Oracle vs Google case have come to acsort of conclusion over whether Google had infringed copyright by using Java patents in building the Android platform.

Returning on Monday, the jury returned a partial verdict (as expected), having already agreed on three out of the four questions posed by Judge Alsup. They found that the TimSort implementation was infringing (but the others were not), yet crucially could not come to a unanimous verdict on Google’s ‘fair use’ of Oracle’s intellectual property.

In Monday’s media maelstrom, initial reports suggested that Oracle had come out on top in the first third of this trial, and on the face of it, it looked as if they had. Yet by delving deeper their win is a pyrrhic one. Many bloggers took to their laptops in the immediate aftermath to proclaim a huge blow to the Android platform. In truth, it isn’t really at all. Well not yet.

Of the TimSort implementation found to be in violation, nine (that’s right nine) lines of code were infringing and as the diagram below shows, that’s a miniscule amount in a codebase of millions. Taking aside the outstanding API copyright issue, which Judge Alsup still has to decide upon. The judge previously ordered the jury to assume that the SSO was violated, so this decision isn’t exactly surprising. If Alsup decides SSO isn’t copyrightable, these questions can be tossed aside entirely anyway.


Both sides released official statements soon after:

Google:

We appreciate the jury’s efforts, and know that fair use and infringement are two sides of the same coin. The core issue is whether the APIs here are copyrightable, and that’s for the court to decide. We expect to prevail on this issue and Oracle’s other claims.

Oracle:

Oracle, the nine million Java developers, and the entire Java community thank the jury for their verdict in this phase of the case. The overwhelming evidence demonstrated that Google knew it needed a license and that its unauthorized fork of Java in Android shattered Java’s central write once run anywhere principle. Every major commercial enterprise — except Google — has a license for Java and maintains compatibility to run across all computing platforms.

The initial decision provoked more paperwork and further legal wrangling – Google moved towards a mistrial and began preparing a brief for this, whilst Oracle’s counsel David Boies immediately suggested that Oracle should be owed a portion of Android profits given the rangeCheck infringement. Alsup disregarded this quickly, saying it bordered on the ridiculous.

We shouldn’t be surprised by the immediate appealing – the verdict was bound to irk both parties with so much at stake. Oracle are set to be awarded minimal damages, if any at all, from the ruling – almost the worst possible scenario for them.

However, the worst part of it all is the looming possibility that Alsup might well rule that APIs can be copyrightable, sending shockwaves across the industry. As RedMonk analyst Stephen O’Grady wrote recently: ”A decision in favor of copyrightable APIs is likely to be at least as damaging as the patent system is today.”

Without wanting to dwell on the ramifications of Act One, we quickly shifted onto the patents phase of this embittered trial – we won’t be hearing the last of this yet though, with both parties expected to respond to any copyright question remaining, by May 10th.

The case, as ever, continues. 

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