|Oracle wins, Google whines. |
Oracle praised the decision in a statement from General Counsel Dorian Daley, calling it "a win for Oracle and the entire software industry that relies on copyright protection to fuel innovation and ensure that developers are rewarded for their breakthroughs."
Google, however, said it was "disappointed by this ruling, which sets a damaging precedent for computer science and software development." Google said it was considering its options, which could include appeals.
With its ruling, the Washington, D.C.-based appellate court sent the case back to U.S. District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco, who must now consider a separate defense that Google advanced originally.
While arguing the APIs weren't covered by copyright, Google had also argued their use was legally protected under a "fair use" doctrine that allows copyrighted material to be used without permission in certain circumstances. A jury deadlocked on that defense and Alsup did not rule on it.
Even as Oracle and its supporters praised the appellate court for protecting intellectual property, some legal experts criticized the court's reasoning Friday and said it contradicted rulings by circuit courts in other parts of the country.
"It's not clear to me that this court has understood the role that APIs play in programming," said James Grimmelmann, a software programmer and University of Maryland law professor. Some experts said APIs are more like general concepts, or building blocks, rather than particular expressions of creativity.
If it stands, the ruling could make it more difficult for developers to build software that uses APIs to interact with other programs, said Forrester analyst Jeffrey Hammond, adding that it may increase "fear, uncertainty and doubt."
The courts just handed Oracle a surprising win in its years-long lawsuit against Google and Android. And Google, to say the least, is not pleased.
Google sent Business Insider this statement:
"We're disappointed by this ruling, which sets a damaging precedent for computer science and software development, and are considering our options."
It's unclear how much money Google could owe Oracle as a result of this new ruling. Oracle had originally been seeking a shocking $6 billion, but the courts didn't allow that huge amount to stick.
The fee Google winds up paying could be as low as $300,000, or even nothing. That's because the courts still have to rule on Google's final defense: that the copyrighted material it used for Android is OK to use under the Fair Use Doctrine.
To recap: Oracle accused Google of copying some of its Java computer code when it wrote Android. Android itself wasn't the issue. Android is different than Java. But Google wanted developers who work with Java, a popular language for web apps, to jump to Android. So it incorporated Java's application programming interfaces (APIs) into Android. This allowed them to quickly convert their apps to Android and it meant that the millions of programmers trained on Java would be familiar with Android, too.
Oracle sued claiming that the APIs were copyrighted. But the judge ruled that APIs are not subject to copyright laws.
On Friday, an appellate court just overturned that loss, and said APIs are subject to copyright.
An API exists to allow two programs to talk to each other. Normally, APIs are freely given away. It's the tool that encourages developers to write apps for a tech company's products.
By saying APIs are copyrightable, the whole software industry has been put on alert. This ruling could be an epic mistake that leads to a lot of frivolous litigation, James Grimmelmann, a copyright scholar at the University of Maryland, told Vox's Timothy Lee.
In 2013, when the case was still pending, two developers weighed in, railing against Oracle, Sacha Labourey, CEO of CloudBees, and Steven Harris, senior vice president for CloudBees and formerly a SVP of Java Server Development at Oracle. In an article on TechCrunch they wrote:
"Will our economy thrive and be more competitive because companies can easily switch from one service provider to the other by leveraging identical APIs? Or will our economy be throttled by allowing vendors to inhibit competition through API lock-in?"
Interestingly, this win was largely due to the lawyer Oracle hired, known for helping Apple win cases against Motorola, notes patent blogger, Florian Mueller:
"This reversal-in-part is a huge win for Oracle and its appellate counsel, a team of Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe lawyers led by Joshua Rosenkranz and Mark Davies. Mr. Rosenkranz has previously been dubbed the "Defibrillator" for reviving lawsuits on appeal after losses in district court. He did it again."