The software development community can breathe a small sigh of relief; the legal stoush between Oracle and Google over the Android operating system’s use of Java application programming interfaces (APIs) is pretty much over after the US courts sided with Google, yet again. The ruling is a huge step in confirming that APIs are protected by “fair use” under the copyright law. Here’s some more background and details on the latest court decision.
For the uninitiated, an API is a standard sets of functions and processes that control how data or applications talk to each other. It exposes a component of a software so that other developers can tap into it without the need to write additional code. APIs can save a lot of time as developers don’t have to duplicate calls and functions that already exist.
In 2010, Oracle sued Google for copyright and patent infringement of core Java technologies that were used in the development of Android. Google argued it was completely legal to incorporate Java APIs under “fair use”.
The reason why this case has captured the attention of the IT industry is not just because this is a battle between two of the biggest technology companies in the world. The ramifications of Oracle winning the case would be disastrous for software developers.
In 2012, the US courts ruled in favour of Google but the decision was later overturned on appeal. The decision implied that APIs could be copyrighted, which could result in many companies forking out extensive licensing fees to use code that already exists. They may even have to end up writing their own code for their software to perform basic functions.
If you are a big company and can afford licensing fees, then that may be fine for you but smaller operations, like start-ups, may not be able to wear this cost. The worst case scenario is that a company copyrights its API and prevents others from accessing it at all. It’s just bad news all around.
But the path to copyrighting API has now encountered a major roadblock. Google and Oracle went back to court and today, a jury found that Google’s use of Java APIs is protected by “fair use” under copyright law. No damages to be paid. Trial over.
Oracle is still kicking and screaming about how Google definitely violated copyright by copying code from Java. The company still has the right to appeal the decision but considering this is the second time it has lost, it may not be worth going to court again.