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Published: 2 November 2020

Google v. Oracle: Coding and Copyright

The Conan Doyle estate aren’t the only big name currently disputing copyright infringement. In a high-profile case unlike any seen before, well-known companies Google and Oracle have gained significant media attention in a decade-long legal battle worth billions.

What is this case about?

Google released Android in 2007, with a software which required them to write millions of lines of original code. However, Google also used over 11,000 lines of code owned by Oracle. They also made use of Oracle’s Java Application Programming Interfaces (APIs).

Though Google defended their use of the code and API, on August 13 2010, Oracle sued Google for patent and copyright infringement, insisting that Google had no right to use them.

Google was found to have infringed upon Oracle's copyright, but it remained uncertain whether the materials used should indeed be considered fair use -- or ‘fair dealing,’ as it is called in the UK. Furthermore, on May 23 2012, Google was ruled to have not infringed upon any patent claims, with the judge stating that APIs were not eligible for copyright.

Oracle appealed in May 2016, insisting that the code was copyrighted and in need of permission for reuse. The jury found that Google was indeed protected by fair use. Oracle appealed this decision again in October of that year. In March 2018 the court ruled in favour of Oracle, as the purpose of Google’s reuse was then deemed commercial.

In January 2019, Google filed a 'writ of certiorari', urging the Supreme Court to review the previous ruling in Oracle’s favour, on the basis that it is not clear whether or not copyright law extends to coding elements such as the Java API on which the case is founded.

Many backed Google, including other large companies such as Microsoft, believing that fair use in these circumstances is beneficial and sometimes essential to the industry.

The Supreme Court was expected to hear the case on March 24 2020, but this was postponed due to COVID-19.

On October 7, the court held a telephone conference instead, discussing the case and the copyrighting of APIs.

The decade-long case is still ongoing, and has many tech-creators on the edge of their seats, waiting to hear the ruling that could determine the future of copyright ownership within the software industry.

The case has drawn many questions to the surface regarding code and copyright, and just what is protected by copyright law.

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