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Professor Shubha Ghosh Analyzes SCOTUS' Java/Google API Decision

Posted on Thursday 4/8/2021
Shubha Ghosh

Supreme Court ruling on Java APIs eases developer worries

(TheServerSide.com | April 6, 2021) Developers can feel some relief now that the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of Google in its landmark copyright case versus Oracle.

Oracle sued Google more than a decade ago, claiming that the search engine giant infringed Oracle's copyrights by using more than 11,500 lines of Java code from Java APIs created by Sun Microsystems, which Oracle acquired in 2010. That code was used to create the Android mobile operating system.

The Supreme Court of the United States' (SCOTUS) decision overturns two lower court rulings in favor of Oracle, and ruled that Google's use of the APIs falls under the fair use doctrine of copyright law ...

... some question the finality and clarity of the decision. Shubha Ghosh, a law professor at Syracuse University, said that while the ruling for Google was not surprising, predicting the court's reasoning was more difficult as the ruling was not as broad as some wanted.

"The ruling is narrow," Ghosh told TheServerSide. "Some were hoping the Court would create a categorical rule that APIs are not copyrightable. Instead, the Court ruled narrowly that Google's use of the declaration code was not infringement. This would mean that software developers can follow what Google did with impunity. That is narrow. But the Court's reasoning implies that not all copyrighted software will be treated the same. This is Justice [Clarence] Thomas' and [Samuel] Alito's concern: It creates a huge hole in software copyright law."

Moreover, the ruling suggests that fair use has an important role in guiding the use of copyrighted software. What that role is may be the subject of future litigation ...

Read the full article.