In a 6-2 ruling, the nation’s highest court said Google’s adoption of a portion of Oracle’s Java SE code to create its world-dominating Android smart phone interface qualified as permissible “fair use.”
Google released its Android platform in 2007, and it quickly became the most popular operating system on smartphones around the globe.
According to the new 40-page ruling, Google copied roughly 11,500 lines of code from the Java SE program during the creation of Android, an amount the court considered only a small fraction of the millions of lines of code that ultimately created a “new and transformative” product.
“Google copied those lines not because of their creativity, their beauty, or even (in a sense) because of their purpose. It copied them because programmers had already learned to work with the Sun Java API’s system, and it would have been difficult, perhaps prohibitively so, to attract programmers to build its Android smartphone system without them,” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote.
“Further, Google’s basic purpose was to create a different task-related system for a different computing environment (smartphones) and to create a platform — the Android platform — that would help achieve and popularize that objective,” he wrote.
“The amount of copying was tethered to a valid, and transformative, purpose,” he wrote.
Two conservative justices — Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito — dissented.
Thomas wrote that he believed “Oracle’s code at issue here is copyrightable, and Google’s use of that copyrighted code was anything but fair.”
The court’s newest member, Justice Amy Coney Barrett, did not participate in the decision because it was argued in October, after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg but before she was sworn in.
Google called Monday’s ruling a “victory for consumers, interoperability, and computer science.”
“The decision gives legal certainty to the next generation of developers whose new products and services will benefit consumers,” Kent Walker, Google’s chief legal officer, said in a statement.
Oracle said the outcome would help Google tighten its alleged stranglehold on the market.
“The Google platform just got bigger and market power greater. The barriers to entry higher and the ability to compete lower. They stole Java and spent a decade litigating as only a monopolist can,” Oracle’s chief legal officer, Dorian Daley, wrote in a statement.
Fellow tech giants Microsoft and IBM had thrown their support behind Google in the closely watched case.
The Motion Picture Association and the Recording Industry Association of America were among those supporting Oracle and tighter copyright laws in general.