On April 5, 2021, the United States Supreme Court ruled that Google’s use of certain Java application programming interfaces (APIs) in its Android operating system did not constitute copyright infringement and Rather, it was fair use of Oracle’s Sun Java API, as Google was only using “what was necessary for users to put their learned talents to work for a transformative new program.” In its decision, the Supreme Court articulated important political considerations behind its ruling, noting that “given that programmers are investing in learning the Sun Java API here, it would risk harming the public. Considering the costs and the difficulties. Producing alternative APIs with a similar appeal to programmers, allowing the application here would make the Sun Java API declaration code a lockdown limiting the future creativity of new programs ” and would interfere with the basic purposes of copyright law. In summary, the Supreme Court relied on political considerations relating to the ability of programmers to use existing code to support software interoperability, a common practice that many in the industry advocated as a necessary practice to maintain reliability. feasibility of mobile computing.
This case covers nearly a decade of disputes between Oracle and Google. After negotiations between Google and Oracle’s predecessor failed to license the entire Java platform for the development of Google’s Android operating system, Google developed its own platform designed for be used exclusively with Android smartphone technology. While developing the platform, Google wrote millions of lines of unique code, but also copied 11,500 lines of code from the Java SE API. The API worked to identify and group tasks and invoke pre-written software to perform those tasks. Google’s own code worked to actually perform the called task. After Oracle acquired the owner of the Java SE API and the corresponding copyright, Oracle sued Google for copyright infringement.
Importantly, the Supreme Court did not address the question of whether the API qualifies for copyright protection. Instead, for the purposes of this case, the Supreme Court assumed that the API was copyrighted and found that its use by Google was fair use and did not violate copyright law. ‘author. For the majority, Breyer J. considered the four guiding principles identified in the fair dealing provision of the Copyright Act: (1) the nature of the copyrighted work ; (2) the purpose and character of the use; (3) the quantity and importance of the part used in relation to the protected work as a whole; and (4) the effect of the use on the potential market or the value of the copyrighted work. 17 USC § 107. The Court found that all four factors weighed in favor of fair use.
The Supreme Court defined the nature of the work as a user interface, therefore the API was “inextricably linked” to an organizational system – which is not protected by copyright – and to a system of implementation – which is protected by copyright (but was not copied in this system. Case). The Court found that overall, the program is further removed from the “heart of copyright” than most computer programs and that this weighs in favor of fair use.
The Supreme Court ruled that Google’s use of the program was transformative in that its goal was to create new products through the Android platform. The Court found that this use was in line with the constitutional purpose of the Copyright Act to promote creative progress, which also weighs in favor of fair dealing.
With regard to the quantity and substantiality of the portion of code used in relation to the protected work as a whole, the Court did not consider the 11,500 lines of code as a single complete work, but rather as a small one. part of a larger program consisting of several million lines of code – the rest that Google did not copy. The court found that this factor weighed in favor of fair dealing.
Finally, considering the effect of use on the market, the file showed both that Google’s new smartphone platform was not a market equivalent of Java SE and that the Java SE copyright holder would benefit from reimplementing its user interface in a different market. The Supreme Court ruled that the application of copyright on the basis of the facts in this case would cause “creativity-related harm to the public” promoting fair use.
The Court’s detailed analysis of fair use of copyright in the context of software programming provides much needed insight for software developers who engage in the common practice of using and reusing written interfaces. by others. The Supreme Court, however, left open the question of whether such code is copyrighted under the law. In a scathing dissent, Justice Thomas wrote that this decision “guts out copyright” and that the only reason the majority chose not to address the copyright issue was “because the majority did not. can reconcile his fundamentally flawed fair dealing analysis with a conclusion that the code is copyrighted. “Whether such programming code is subject to copyright protection as a matter of law is likely to be the subject of debate and lawsuits in the future alongside the ever-changing programming landscape. of software.
2021 Goulston and Storrs PC. National Law Review, Volume XI, Number 98