Big Win For Fair Use: Jury Says Google's Use Of Java API's Was Fair Use… On To The Appeal

from the ain't-done-yet dept

This is somewhat surprising, but good: after a few days of deliberation, the jury in the redo of the Oracle v. Google case concerning Google’s use of Java’s APIs in Android has resulted in a jury verdict finding that Google’s use was allowed as fair use. There’s not much to unpack here beyond what we’ve already written about the case. The jury form was a simple question of whether or not the use was covered by fair use, with a “Yes” check box meaning “finding for Google” and a “No” check box finding for Oracle The jury checked yes.

So, a few quick thoughts:

  1. All things considered this is a good ruling in that it doesn’t lead to a crazy situation that undermines the reimplementation of APIs and other structures in different software, so *phew*.
  2. This still sucks because fair use was the wrong vehicle. The APIs never should have been considered copyright-eligible in the first place, just as the judge in the original trial explained in his very detailed opinion. It’s only because an excessively confused federal circuit appeals court mucked things up, that the case had to go back down and be redone over fair use.
  3. The trial itself was a weird one, because they weren’t really allowed to talk about the first trial and how a very large number of people in the tech industry didn’t think that APIs were covered by copyright at all. So that resulted in some weird conversations to explain why no one really thought this was infringing. They couldn’t say no one thought APIs were covered by copyright, so they had to talk about “open” and “free” in ways that were slightly misleading.
  4. If anything, this may be the most important fair use case to turn on factor 2, “the nature of the copyrighted work.” That’s a factor that rarely is a very big deal, but without being able to (re)challenge the copyrightability, the focus was mostly on the nature of APIs and how the tech industry viewed them as free to be reused.
  5. Of course, no matter what the verdict was there would be an appeal, and that’s absolutely true. Oracle will appeal. But it does make it more difficult to appeal. Oracle will have to challenge specific aspects of things, and will likely focus on the jury instructions, which it will argue unfairly biased the jury or something along those lines.
  6. The Court of Appeals of the Federal Circuit (CAFC) is still a disaster, and while I hope they don’t, there’s still a decent chance they’ll end up siding with Oracle on appeal. Remember, CAFC is a court that normally focuses on patent laws and has a long and disgraceful history of loving to expand intellectual property and believing, incorrectly, that any kind of use is “theft.”
  7. But, in the meantime, this at least lifts something of a cloud over the industry, and we can hope that (1) CAFC will get it right and if they don’t (2) that the Supreme Court will fix it, rather than ignore it, next time around.

Overall, a good result of a bad process and a confused judicial system. For now.

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Companies: google, oracle

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Comments on “Big Win For Fair Use: Jury Says Google's Use Of Java API's Was Fair Use… On To The Appeal”

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Mark Murphy (profile) says:

CAFC Appeal

> there’s still a decent chance they’ll end up siding with Oracle on appeal

Really? I thought the CAFC was the court that rejected the original trial result, but bounced it back to the lower court specifically to examine the fair use case. If they weren’t willing to entertain a jury deciding that it’s fair use, they would not have left open that possibility. Right?

Then again, IANALNDIPOOTV (I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV).

Anonymous Coward says:

Logically Valid - Thankfulness

“…good result of a bad process and a confused judicial system.”

Let A = “good process” and B = “good result.”
Let ~A [NOT A] = “bad [not good] process.”

The truth table of the proposition

~A implies B is


Note that ~A->B is true for all cases of “bad process.” So, we’re logically safe, concluding “bad process” implies “good result” – yay!*

Ellison and company are leaders in a long parade of copyright maximalist asshats. Better would have been some actually correct argument implying our good result. For now, I’ll take the logically marred finding as preferable to the equally logically valid but WRONG alternative. Meanwhile, I remain uneasy and pray for ignorance from any reviewing authority, unless it be to recognize and correct the original proposition and finding to “good process” implies “good result.”

* Of course, the truth value for ~A implies ~B also true – rats!

Wendy Cockcroft says:

Well I’m glad that the jury found that it was fair use, and while I know they weren’t allowed to talk about the copyright-ability of the API, I’m confused as hell about the fact that, despite multiple protestations from the Google legal team and their witness that all the code was open source to begin with (therefore no copyright violation COULD have been at issue), there has been no judgement along the lines of, “It was open source so why was this case brought again?”

Copyrightability is not the issue when the code is free to use, AFAIK. I’m really confused about this since, if I’m right, Google had no case to answer unless they had breached the terms of the open source licence.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Um… No.

Allow me to enlighten you.
U.S. Code § 102 – Subject matter of copyright

§ 102 (b)
In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work.

An API is essentially most of what this describes – an idea, procedure, process, method of operation, concept.

An API is just a specification. It’s basically a framework that describes how to communicate within a given app or another app. Hence the name “Application Programming Interface” The underlying “behind the scenes” stuff WITHIN the API can be copyrighted, but not the API itself. It has no functionality on its own. Google did not copy ANY of the underlying code at all – only the API concept – mostly in the name of interoperability – something that copyright also allows for.

All was right as rain in the world until Oracle came along and started whining and had CAFC throw into chaos what had been decades long established industry practice (actually.. even before programming was even considered an industry for that matter)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I suspect that that article is FUD, designed to stop corporation jumping ship from Oracle to open source databases. It is an unfortunate fact than senior management has so little understanding of copyright that they will believe what a lawyer tells them; after all they involve lawyers in many of their decisions.

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