A San Francisco jury has reduced damages payable by Google by approximately $9.3bn as a result of finding that it had not infringed Oracle's copyright in the development of its Android system.
The Oracle claim related to use by Google of the Java application programming interfaces (APIs), which are programs used to perform common computer functions. Oracle estimated the proceeds of this infringement to be in excess of $51bn since 2008 and claimed $9.3bn in damages and account of profit as a result.
Oracle purchased the Java APIs from Sun Microsystems in 2010 for $7.4bn. It claimed that Google had wrongfully profited from copying pages of library files, some 11,500 lines of code, stating that Google had taken a "shortcut at Oracle's expense". The jury, however, found that this was not the case and accepted Google's defence of fair use. This decision could open the door to 'free use' by software developers of APIs and limited ability for their creators to prevent this.
At first instance, in deciding for Google, the Judge ruled that APIs could never be the subject of copyright protection, a finding that was later overturned on appeal. Google could, however, rely on the fair use defence provided for in US copyright legislation. Although it would now seem that APIs can secure protection as copyright works, this is somewhat qualified by the fair use defence, which "sets a high bar for creativity before deserving protection".
Fair use decisions, however, are made on a case by case basis and cannot be relied upon in Ireland, where the relevant legal principles are very different. Developers in Ireland or anywhere outside the US, should seek expert advice before making use of and/or incorporating third party APIs.
With Oracle vowing to appeal, this is one program that the tech world will be watching!