Google v. Oracle, Fair Use v. Copyright

In just one month, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear opening arguments on a case that could reshape the future of software development. The dispute started in 2010, when Oracle—which acquired Sun Microsystems, the previous owner of Java—filed a copyright infringement case against Google for using Java APIs (application programming interfaces) in its Android operating system. Oracle claims that “Google had replicated the structure, sequence, and organization of the overall code” for 37 packages in its Java API. Google claims that APIs are not copyrightable and even if they are, they are protected under fair use. With the hearing set in one month, supporters on both sides have started to file legal briefs. Supporters for Oracle include; the Trump Administration, the Songwriters Guild, the Committee for Justice, and the American Conservative Union Foundation. Supporters for Google include Microsoft and IBM.


1. Whether copyright protection extends to a software interface.

2. Whether the petitioner’s use of a software interface in the context of creating a new computer program constitutes fair use.

Why it matters: The Supreme Court is considering key questions related to software copyright and fair use — with billions of dollars in damages in the balance. Google claims that the survival of software innovation rests on their long-running copyright battle. Oracle claims a victory will ensure software makers enjoy copyright protections.

If Google Wins: Software development will go on as it does now.

If Oracle Wins: Unclear. Massive disruption? Companies reluctant to take on innovative projects? More patents? More expenses? Essential to protecting innovation?

Procedural Timeline:

What’s next: The Supreme Court will hear oral argument from the companies March 24.

Questions to Consider: 

  1. Which side are you on and why?
  2. What is the policy behind fair use?
  3. What effect will an Oracle win have on innovation? Hinderance or protection?





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