Developers received the news that they were hoping to hear at the end of the closely watched Oracle-Google trial. The verdict: Google’s use of 37 Java APIs did not violate copyright laws and, as a result, developers aren’t liable for paying hefty licensing fees or maintaining a sizable legal retainer to fight off any litigation that could have arisen.
Judge William Alsup noted the code in question is considered a utility function of Java and required for interoperability. In his ruling, Alsup wrote:
To accept Oracle’s claim would be to allow anyone to copyright one version of code to carry out a system of commands and thereby bar all others from writing their own different versions to carry out all or part of the same commands.
Ruling in favor of Oracle would have set a precedent that delivered a huge blow to software development in general by requiring developers to pay licensing fees for reuse of API codes. Instead, Google’s use of Java APIs is within developers’ rights.
The opinion’s summary says it best:
So long as the specific code used to implement a method is different, anyone is free under the Copyright Act to write his or her own code to carry out exactly the same function or specification of any methods used in the Java API. It does not matter that the declaration or method header lines are identical. Under the rules of Java, they must be identical to declare a method specifying the same functionality — even when the implementation is different. When there is only one way to express an idea or function, then everyone is free to do so and no one can monopolize that expression. And, while the Android method and class names could have been different from the names of their counterparts in Java and still have worked, copyright protection never extends to names or short phrases as a matter of law.
Rather than ending programing as we know it, the ruling affirmed what we believed about fair use of APIs — at least the 37 Google used in Android.