The US Supreme Court has ruled for Google in the battle between the search giant and Oracle over the architecture of Google’s Android operating system. In a 6-2 decision published on Monday and written by Justice Stephen Breyer, the court ruled that “Google’s copying of the Java SE API, which included only those lines of code that were needed to allow programmers to put their accrued talents to work in a new and transformative program, was a fair use of that material as a matter of law.”
At issue was Oracle’s claim that Google copied about 11,500 lines of Java code from Sun Microsystems in creating its popular Android OS., with the company later suing Google for over illegally using that software.
Google claimed that its use of the software was allowed as “fair use,” with the company winning the first major legal battle in this case in 2016 only to have an appeals court overturn the decision two years later. After Google repeated petitioning, the.
“Today’s Supreme Court decision in Google v. Oracle is a big win for innovation, interoperability & computing,” Kent Walker, Google’s senior vice president of global affairs, said on Twitter following the news. “Thanks to the country’s leading innovators, software engineers & copyright scholars for their support.”
Dorian Daley, Oracle’s executive vice president and general counsel, said that Google’s win is just the latest example of the search giant’s power.
“The Google platform just got bigger and market power greater. The barriers to entry higher and the ability to compete lower. They stole Java and spent a decade litigating as only a monopolist can,” Daley wrote in a statement posted to Oracle’s website. “This behavior is exactly why regulatory authorities around the world and in the United States are examining Google’s business practices.”
Joining the majority opinion were Chief Justice John Roberts and justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh; Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented. Justice Amy Coney Barrett did not participate as she was not confirmed by the Senate in time for the case to be heard last October.
Developers cheer the Supreme Court decision
Many developers and others in the tech world welcomed the court’s decision:
- Tim Bray, who worked at Sun Microsystems, Google, and most recently Amazon Web Services, offered a smiley-face emoji when he tweeted that the decision is “an expensive and humiliating loss for Oracle.”
- “This lawsuit was the source of major anxiety for me. The wrong decision here could have fundamentally broken tech,” tweeted Navneet Joneja, a vice president at software maker VMware who previously worked at Microsoft and Google. “So glad to see they made the right decision!”
- “Thank you to the Supreme Court for saving all modern computing from an onslaught of copyright trolls,” tweeted Alex Stamos, a security researcher at the Stanford Internet Observatory and former security leader at Facebook.
- Basecamp Chief Technology Officer David Heinemeier Hansson cheered the decision but wasn’t happy it took so long. “What a disaster for the US legal system that this took OVER A DECADE to resolve,” he tweeted. “Original suit filed in August, 2010!”
- “An opposite ruling would have brought into question all the reverse engineering that’s made the web what it is,” tweeted Ian “Hixie” Hickson, a Google engineer who’s been instrumental in setting technical standards like HTML that make the web work.
There’s a caveat to the Supreme Court’s decision, though. Google had argued that APIs aren’t copyrightable, a stance many developers had applauded. The Supreme Court didn’t rule on that point, though, addressing only Google’s fair use argument so it had “to decide no more than is necessary to resolve this case.”
But the decision still offers consolation to those worried about whether APIs are copyrightable, tweeted Gordon Haff, a technology evangelist at IBM’s Red Hat software division.
“On the one hand, it would have been nice to see SCOTUS say APIs are not copyrightable,” Haff tweeted. “On the other hand, that would probably be very close to legislating from the bench, and this ruling probably has almost the same practical effect.”
CNET’s Richard Nieva contributed to this report.