On April 5, 2021, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) issued its decision in Google LLC v Oracle America Inc, 593 US ___ (2021), holding that Google’s copying, and incorporation into its Android mobile platform, of approximately 11,500 lines of code from the Oracle-owned application programming interface Java SE (the API) was not copyright infringement and constituted fair use. The decision, delayed by a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, marks the end of a decade-long litigation between the tech giants, in which Oracle initially claimed damages in the amount of nearly 9 billion USD for Google’s alleged copyright infringement (previously reported by the E-TIPS® Newsletter here).
The lower courts considered the following two questions: (1) whether copied lines of code could be copyrighted; and (2) if so, whether Google’s copying of those lines of code constituted fair use of a copyrighted work. SCOTUS did not address the first question and instead focused its decision on the second, assessing Google’s use of the copied code against each of the four factors for fair use as provided in the US Copyright Act §107: (i) the purpose and character of the use, (ii) the nature of the copyrighted work, (iii) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole, and (iv) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
SCOTUS found that Google’s use of the API constituted “fair use” under all four factors, ruling that:
The 6-2 majority decision was written by Justice Breyer.
Summary By: Hashim Ghazi
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