Google wins major copyright battle with Orcale

Google has one its court case against Oracle after a 10 year battle with the company.

In a closely-watched copyright dispute, the case has huge implications for how companies build software to work across platforms.

After a decade of fierce litigation, the Supreme Court handed Google a win over Oracle on Monday in a closely-watched copyright dispute that has huge implications for how companies build software to work across platforms.

Google had been accused of stealing chunks of API code developed by Sun Microsystems, which was later acquired by Oracle.

Justice Stephen Breyer, who wrote the majority opinion in favour of Google said: "We assume, for argument’s sake, that the material was copyrightable,”. “But we hold that the copying here at issue nonetheless constituted a fair use."

Dozens of tech industry groups praised the decision as a win for innovation and competition, allowing startups and developers to freely use code that enables programs to work together.

“When something serves a functional purpose — when it works — it doesn’t make sense to let copyright stop others from using the same functional method,” said Stan Adams, a lawyer with the nonprofit Center for Democracy and Technology.

Meanwhile, Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito disagreed with the ruling, attacking Google’s argument and pointing out more than once that Apple and Microsoft created their own successful rival products without using Oracle’s “declaring code,” while Google simply copied the API. They also claimed that the majority’s approach to fair use went against the way Congress intended for copyright protections to be applied to computer code.

Google had argued that this type of software code is often used freely by developers to increase interoperability between different products, and that even if such code is copyrightable — as Oracle had argued — it should be covered by the law’s “fair use" provisions, which allow the unlicensed use of otherwise copyrighted material under some circumstances.

Oracle had argued that the code was copyrightable, that it should have been paid for Google’s use of it and that while some standard code is exempt from the protections, the Java code was anything but standard.

Kent Walker, Google's senior vice president of global affairs, described the ruling as a victory for innovation. "The decision gives legal certainty to the next generation of developers whose new products and services will benefit consumers," he said.

Google and Oracle are competitive political rivals with each side arguing that the other plays unfair not simply in business, but in the tech policy debates that have gripped Washington in recent years.