Tuesday, April 6, 2021
The U.S. Supreme Court sided with Google this week in a major decision that some legal experts are hailing as a victory for programmers and consumers. The Court ruled that Google did not violate copyright law when it included parts of Oracle’s Java programming code in its Android operating system—ending a decade-long multibillion dollar legal battle.
The Court’s ruling in Google LLC v. Oracle America, Inc. upheld long standing industry practices that have furthered development of software that’s compatible with other programs, legal experts tell TIME. The ruling means copyright holders for software “can’t maintain a monopoly over critical interface aspects,” argues Jeanne Fromer, a professor of copyright law at New York University School of Law—and those aspects can be used by both users and programmers to more easily switch between products.
“This is huge for a vibrant tech industry to continue innovating,” says Fromer. “In fact, that’s what the tech industry has long been built on… if this [practice] had been forbidden, there’s so many things in fundamental aspects of software that we wouldn’t have today.”
The Court did not rule on the broader issue of whether the code in question could be copyrighted. Rather, Breyer wrote, “The Court assumes for argument’s sake that the copied lines can be copyrighted,” so it could focus on whether Google acted illegally. While a ruling on the copyright status “would have provided a clearer safe harbor for software developers,” writes Peter Menell, a professor of copyright law at University of California at Berkeley School of Law who filed an amicus brief in support of Google, it still “provides some assurance” for people looking to use a similar approach to develop products.