Federal Circuit Holds Google Liable for Copyright Infringement of Java API

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) has overturned a jury verdict and district court decisions finding that Google’s copying and use of 37 of Oracle’s Java API packages are permissible as ‘fair use’ under copyright law. 

The dispute has been in litigation for about eight years and has yet to conclude. In 2005, Google acquired Android, Inc. and decided to use the Java programming language, then proprietary to Sun Microsystems (later acquired by Oracle) in order to design Google’s own virtual machine for the Android platform. Google copied Oracle’s Java API packages, inserting that code into parts of its Android software in order to have Android support Java application programming.

In 2010, Oracle sued Google for copyright infringement. The district court judge initially determined that Oracle’s Java API was not entitled to copyright protection in the first place, but that decision was overturned on appeal and remanded to the district court. The district court then tried the case to determine whether Google made ‘fair use’ of the copyright protected Java API. In 2016, the jury unanimously decided it did, and Oracle appealed to the CAFC which has now delivered this current decision.

Analyzing the statutory factors for fair use, the CAFC found that Google made commercial use of the Java API in a non-transformative manner. The court found that Google’s use of the Java API does not add something new, with a further purpose or different character than Oracle’s original Java API.

The decision explains that the purpose of the API packages in Android are the same as the purpose of the packages in Oracle’s original Java platform, that Google made no alteration to the expressive content or message of the Java API and the use of Java API in Android amounts to use in smartphones that are not considered to be used in a new context. The CAFC also concluded that Google’s copying the Java API may result in a substantial adverse impact on the potential market for Oracle’s Java API. Taking these and other factors together, the CAFC held that Google conduct was not ‘fair use’ as a matter of law.