Supreme Court backs Google in Oracle copyright battle

The US Supreme Court sided with Google Monday its decade-long copyright battle with fellow tech giant Oracle over a batch of software code used in the Android mobile operating system.

In a 6-2 decision, the court ruled that Google had not violated copyright law by using more than 11,000 lines of Oracle code to build the Android software that powers most of the world’s smartphones.

The way Google incorporated the code from Oracle’s Java SE computer platform into its Android operating system constitutes what’s called a fair use under federal copyright law, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in the majority opinion.

That’s because Google only copied lines of code “needed to allow programmers to put their accrued talents to work in a new and transformative program,” Breyer ruled.

Allowing Oracle to enforce its copyright against Google, on the other hand, could hurt the public by turning the code at hand into “a lock limiting the future creativity of new programs,” Breyer wrote. “Oracle alone would hold the key.”

Larry Page
Google CEO Larry Page walks into a federal building on the third day of the trial with Oracle in San Francisco, Wednesday, April 18, 2012.

Google praised the decision, calling it “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, the company’s senior vice president of global affairs, said in a statement.

But Oracle slammed the ruling in a statement that needled Google for the regulatory scrutiny it’s facing, such as the antitrust lawsuits filed against the company last year.

Larry Ellison
Oracle CEO Larry Ellison arrives for a court appearance at a federal building in San Francisco on April 17, 2012.

“They stole Java and spent a decade litigating as only a monopolist can,” said Dorian Daley, Oracle’s executive vice president and general counsel. “This behavior is exactly why regulatory authorities around the world and in the United States are examining Google’s business practices.”

Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The decision was the latest episode in a prolonged court battle that began when Oracle sued Google for copyright infringement in 2010 in California federal court, where Oracle lost in the first stage of litigation.

The Supreme Court
The Supreme Court is siding with Google in an $8 billion copyright dispute with Oracle. The justices sided with Google 6-2 on April 5, 2021. The case has to do with Google’s creation of the Android operating system now used on the vast majority of smartphones worldwide.

An appellate court most recently sided with Oracle on appeal in 2018, a decision that Google appealed and the Supreme Court reversed.

The ruling may have saved Google a hefty hit to its bottom line as Oracle had been seeking damages of more than $8 billion.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Neil Gorusch and Brett Kavanaugh supported Breyer’s opinion, while Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented. Justice Amy Coney Barrett was not on the bench when the case was argued in October and did not participate in the decision.

Oracle and Google signs
The Supreme Court has sided with Google in the legal fight over the tech giant’s Android operating system.
Getty Images

With Post wires