Android, built on Java software code, provides power to a majority of the mobile devices in the world. Android was developed and run by technology super house Google. Google states that they used elements of this Java code for operations. This methodology, originally spun by the technology giant Oracle, led to a public feud in 2011. Oracle claimed Google had copyrighted exact lines of a Java code they had created to complete their technology development. Google LLC v. Oracle Am., Inc., 141 S. Ct. 1183 (2021).
The case is marked by several flip-flopping verdicts and has left some loose ends. Judge Alsup in 2012 gave a ruling that APIs are not subject to copyright law. In 2014, the Federal Circuit reversed that decision and put forth a new ruling that Java code is copyrightable. However, the floor was open for Google to present a defense. Google appealed in 2018 with Oracle, initially seeking close to ten billion dollars in damages. That number soon renewed to closer to $30 billion. Oracle’s suit claims that Google copied lines of Java programming code and used that code directly from Android. Oracle and Google’s main areas of dispute were surrounding fair use. The Supreme Court began hearing oral arguments in 2020.
They reviewed the documents and verdicts presented that led to the decisions passed down by the U.S. Court of Appeals for The Federal Circuit. The Court went over four key aspects to determine whether or not the copying of API was fair use. These aspects could be found in the Copyright Act’s fair use section. These guiding factors on fair use included the purpose of the use, the nature of the work, the effect on the market, and the amount of the portion used. After over a decade of dispute, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Google, deciding that the technology giant did not commit copyright infringement when developing Android. In this 6-2 vote with Justice Breyer preceding, the case was considered an example of fair use.
Justices were concerned that a ruling in favor of Oracle could lead to monopolization. When in discussion, the Justices expressed that they understood the more profound importance of Software creation and the capabilities of Java. “There are a thousand ways of organizing things, which the first person who developed them, you’re saying, could have a copyright and prevent anybody else from using them,” Chief Justice Roberts had stated. Software creators that have developed technology will not be able to hold a monopoly over the technology, meaning that it will be available for use by other companies, programmers, and developers.
The Supreme Court ruling in favor of Google, Inc. on the primary means of creative technological freedom could open new doors for other companies to do the same. The technology industry has supported the decision, noting that it now allows companies and developers to extend the fair use of computer code. Developers who wish to have more creative liberty without facing legal repercussions may have more creative freedom that will benefit consumers.