A little over a week ago, we reported that in the legal battle between Google and Oracle, the jury ruled that while Google was guilty of infringing upon Oracle’s copyright, they did not infringe upon any of the company’s patents. Unfortunately one of the decisions that the jury could not come to a unanimous conclusion to was whether the copyrighted material Google infringed upon was covered under “fair use” and if Oracle’s Java APIs could be copyrighted. This ruling was left to Judge Alsup and based on his latest ruling, it seems that the Java APIs are not copyrightable. This essentially rendered the jury’s ruling moot and basically handed Google the win. According to the judge:
So long as the specific code used to implement a method is different, anyone is free under the Copyright Act to write his or her own code to carry out exactly the same function or specification of any methods used in the Java API. It does not matter that the declaration or method header lines are identical.
Under the rules of Java, they must be identical to declare a method specifying the same functionality — even when the implementation is different. When there is only one way to express an idea or function, then everyone is free to do so and no one can monopolize that expression. And, while the Android method and class names could have been different from the names of their counterparts in Java and still have worked, copyright protection never extends to names or short phrases as a matter of law.
As with the case with most legal proceedings, they can be used by lawyers and judges as precedents. Looking to avoid that, Judge Alsup has also noted in his ruling that, “This order does not hold that Java API packages are free for all to use without license. It does not hold that the structure, sequence, and organization of all computer programs may be stolen. Rather, it holds on the specific facts of this case, the particular elements replicated by Google were free for all to use under the Copyright Act.”