In Mixed Ruling, Jury Finds Google Guilty of Infringing on Java Copyrights

A jury in California has found Google guilty of copyright infringement in a case that was brought to court by Oracle. However, although the jury ruled that Google’s Android mobile platform does indeed infringe on the Java technologies that Oracle now owns, a decision on fair use remains unresolved. And that means the results are somewhat mixed. It’s likely that Oracle, the ostensible winner, will get a lot less than it was asking for.

Now, a judge must rule on the fair-use issue, which will determine whether Oracle can collect the millions of dollars in damages it has requested, a now-unlikely outcome. That ruling will happen in the next few days, he said.

The case involves almost 40 Java APIs that Oracle says Google stole for use in Android. This was easily proven, since much of this API set was simply copied by Google for use in Android. However, Google argues that its use of these APIs is “transformative,” not derivative, since it used the APIs to create something new. In this way, Google argued, Android was no different than any other software product created with Java.

Amazingly, the trial that led to this decision never garnered major headlines despite the fact that many senior Google executives—including CEO Larry Page, ex-CEO Eric Schmidt, and Android chief Andy Rubin—and other industry luminaries like Oracle CEO Larry Ellison and former Sun CEO Eric Schwartz (Sun owned Java but was bought by Oracle) actually testified in court. But the verdict is sure to leave a bigger wake, given its ramifications: Yes, Google stole parts of Java to make Android.

But does that even matter?

Oracle referred to Google’s infringements as “staggering,” noting that the stolen APIs, if printed out, would exceed 11,000 printed pages. It referred to the creation of those APIs as akin to creating a new work of music or art, and claimed that, as the vehicle of that theft, Android was a “deep threat” to the entire Java community. Google’s theft wasn’t transformative at all, Oracle argued; it was simply copying. And by giving away the resulting product, Android, Google was further harming Java.

Google, meanwhile, claims it didn’t think it needed a license to Java and that its use of Java technology constitutes “fair use.” And the jury found that while Android infringes on “the overall structure” of Oracle’s Java software copyrights, the actual infringing parts were minor. The firm now seeks a mistrial since the jury couldn’t decide on the fair-use issue.

For Oracle, the ruling might simply signal defeat through victory. It’s assertion that Google stole Java code to make Android, now the dominant mobile platform, is correct. But it may not receive the millions in damages it sought, nor will it likely achieve its ultimate goal of forcing Google to legally license Java. “Every major commercial enterprise—except Google—has a license for Java,” an Oracle statement notes. That may not be changing.

On the other hand, the trial has cast a justifiably dark shadow over Google and Android and how that company’s “Do No Evil” mantra has done little to prevent it from stealing its way to the top. Given the lax nature of Google’s ethics outlined during the trial, one naturally wonders when—not if—the next claim of theft will come.

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