Judge rules in favor of Google, APIs cannot be copyrighted

By on June 1, 2012, 11:30 AM

US District Judge William Alsup of San Francisco has ruled against Oracle in their lawsuit with Google. The judge declared that copyright law does not reside over APIs, specifically in this case, with Google’s use of Java when they developed the Android mobile operating system.

Last month a jury found that Android does not infringe on patents from Oracle. The search giant was being charged with eight counts of infringement that covered two separate patents. The jury determined that Google did infringe on 37 Java APIs when they were creating Android but they were unable to ascertain if its use constituted as “fair use” under copyright law. Without a ruling here, Oracle was unable to proceed and collect damages which is where this latest ruling comes into play.

Alsup said that Google didn’t copy Oracle’s programming code in Android but rather wrote their own code to replicate the same functions. Google reportedly used some of the same phrases in their code but it was necessary to maintain the same level of interoperability. He concluded that names, titles and phrases aren’t covered by copyright law which is what Google’s use amounted to.

Company spokesperson Deborah Hellinger told Bloomberg that Oracle plans to appeal the ruling.

“This ruling, if permitted to stand, would undermine the protection for innovation and invention in the United States and make it far more difficult to defend intellectual property rights against companies anywhere in the world that simply takes them as their own,” said she in an e-mailed statement.

Google is still responsible for using nine lines of Java code in Android but the charge is limited to statutory damages not exceeding $150,000, a far cry from estimated $1 billion payout Oracle was seeking.




User Comments: 8

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Adhmuz Adhmuz, TechSpot Paladin, said:

"This ruling, if permitted to stand, would undermine the protection for innovation and invention in the United States" I may be taking this the wrong way but is that not exactly what Oracle is trying to do here? By saying they own code and no one else can use it, this prevents others from being innovative in my eyes more than Google using nine lines of code.

Chazz said:

How could others be innovative and inventive by using someone else's code? I think that would imply that the person created something new, on their own. I really have no opinion on this suit, but I can understand what oracle is saying.

gwailo247, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

My programming skills, although dating back decades, are very limited, so correct me if I'm wrong, but if you're trying to do a specific function using any kind of specific programming language, aren't you bound to replicate some of the same code as another program that tries to do the same function?

So is Oracle trying to say that if they come up with some way to use a given programming language to perform a certain function, then any subsequent attempts to duplicate the same function are infringement because you will need to use specific sequences of code in order to replicate the function, and they already used those sequences first?

Doctor John Doctor John said:

Totally agree, gwailo247, it seems like trying to invent a new language but you can't use vowels, 'cause they're copyright! (I like exaggerating )

Guest said:

Question is not copyright. Question here is copying somebody code and without giving them any credit and claim its your. Sign a licence if any or acknowledge them.

Guest said:

What some people might not be understanding is the difference between APIs and actual code that has innovative, inventive value.

Oracle makes a function called "solveComplexProblem()". The API basically tells us the name, what kind of data to expect, and what sort of answer to send back; this is the declaration. Oracle then proceeds to write out all the code to actually solve the complex problem; this is the implementation.

Get a whole list of declarations and you get an API. It tells you WHAT you can do (declaration), but it doesn't tell you HOW it does it (implementation). It doesn't need to, and for commercial software it shouldn't. You make money off of your method, and it is both patentable and falls under copyright. Java programs all know WHAT Oracle's Java framework does, they just don't know HOW it does it. Nor do they care; they have their own code to worry about.

What Google did was read WHAT you can do, but it had to figure out the HOW. They knew what the end result should look like, though, so they got together a bunch of intelligent programmers, coders, and software engineers and told them to figure out the middle. Which they did, because black box and clean room reverse engineering isn't exactly an uncommon practice, both in the digital and physical world.

Google didn't infringe on the patents because they didn't copy the HOW, meaning it's clear on the patent and copyright problems for it (excepting those 9 lines of code already ruled on). What was copied were names for identification purposes, the WHAT; copyright privileges can't limit that.

Guest said:

Verbose drivel.

Guest said:

This is all greedy ppl, if u so cleaver why not u create u own software. When someone come out with software that earn money then this greedy ppl come to rob them

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