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Appeals Court Refuses to Hear Latest in $8.8 Billion Java Copyright Dispute

And so, finally, after eight long years, can this really be the end of the seemingly immortal court battle between Oracle and Google over those 37 Java APIs? The answer is ... probably not.

This week a U.S. Federal Circuit Court of Appeals declined to re-hear the case (Oracle America v. Google LLC) in which it found Google to be in violation of Oracle's copyright of those infamous APIs in its Android OS by a panel, or en blanc. Google can still appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court, but that court refused to hear an earlier appeal.

If Google appeals again and the Supremes demure again, the next step is a jury hearing to determine damages. Why take another run at the big court? Oracle is claiming $8.8 billion in damages, which is a lot of money, even for Alphabet's search giant.

In March, the appeals court ruled that Google's use the Java APIs in its Android OS was not protected under the fair use provision of U.S. copyright law. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit sent the case back to a judge in San Francisco for a trial to decide how much the search engine giant will have to pay.

Oracle originally sued Google in 2010. Google's argument that its use of the Java APIs was allowed under the "fair use" provisions of the federal copyright law, and therefore did not infringe on Oracle-owned copyrights failed to persuade the court. "There is nothing fair about taking a copyrighted work verbatim and using it for the same purpose and function as the original in a competing platform," a panel of three Federal Circuit judges wrote in their March opinion.

What the appeals court found initially was that the declaration code in Oracle's API packages, which Google copied verbatim, was copyrightable. Google developed the implementation code independently, so that wasn't at issue. The court found that the Oracle code had not been merged with the functions performed by the code; that combinations of short code phrases, such as those used in the APIs, can be copyrightable; and the fact that the code serves a function does not preclude its copyrightability if, as the court put it, "the author had multiple ways to express the underlying idea" at the time of creation of the code.

Given the stakes, I think we can expect one more round.

Posted by John K. Waters on August 29, 2018