The U.S. Supreme Court has issued a groundbreaking decision in the long-running dispute between Google and Oracle Corp this week.
After a decade of legal battles, Google received a massive win when the nation’s highest court ruled that its use of Oracle’s code to power its Android operating system was not a violation of copyright laws.
“As only a monopolist can”
One justice made it clear that it remains crucial for tech companies to have access to code through which they can benefit billions of people around the world.
In 2010, Oracle waged a massive copyright infringement lawsuit against Google, claiming the tech giant stole tens of thousands of lines of proprietary code for use in the Android software environment used in roughly 70% of the world’s mobile devices.
For its part, Google argued that it did not copy the code but acknowledged using “elements” of the Java-based code necessary to power its mobile software.
A lower court ruled in Oracle’s favor, determining that Google’s use of its code did not fall under “fair use” where U.S. copyright law is concerned.
In a statement accusing Google of wrongdoing, Oracle Executive Vice President and General Counsel Dorian Daley said: “They stole Java and spent a decade litigating as only a monopolist can. This behavior is exactly why regulatory authorities around the world and in the United States are examining Google’s business practices.”
“Oracle alone would hold the key”
Following a pair of losses in federal circuit court in 2014 and 2018, the Supreme Court heard arguments in the appeal last year.
Oracle’s prior court victories were overturned on Monday when the high court issued a 6-2 ruling in favor of Google, saving the company a potential sum of $30 billion in damages, which could have been imposed if the ruling went the other way. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented, with Amy Coney Barrett not involved since the case began prior to her appointment to the bench.
Justice Stephen Breyer led the majority opinion, writing that if Oracle were allowed to claim copyright violations on specific pieces of code, the public sector would suffer from the creation of a “lock limiting the future creativity of new programs” under which “Oracle alone would hold the key.”
In addition to Google, industry insiders including Computer & Communications Industry Association President Matt Schruers have celebrated the ruling and the precedent it set.
“The high court’s decision that fair use extends to the functional principles of computer code means companies can offer competing, interoperable products,” he said.