On Tuesday, March 27, 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit overturned a unanimous 2016 jury verdict that held that Google’s use of Oracle’s Java programming language in the development of its highly-successful Android platform was protected under “fair use” (previously reported here: https://ladasparry.wpengine.com/news/jury-determines-google-protected-by-fair-use-against-liability-for-its-unauthorized-use-of-java-apis/). The Federal Circuit has remanded the case back to a federal judge in the Ninth Circuit to determine how much in damages Google now owes to Oracle (Oracle had previously sought US$9 billion in damages).
In a case widely watched by the software development community, the Federal Circuit’s decision may have a broad impact on the extent to which the use of APIs or application programming interfaces belonging to others is allowable under a fair-use defense. APIs are bits of computer code used by programmers to achieve operability across various computer programs and are integral to the performance of computer software across different platforms and user devices. The Federal Circuit previously reversed the district court’s ruling that APIs were not protected under U.S. copyright law, holding that declaring code and the structure, sequence, and organization (“SSO”) of Java API packages are entitled to copyright protection.