Google loses copyright battle on Java and Android; may owe billions of dollars to Oracle

According to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, use of Java APIs in the development of Android operating system is violation of copyright law. 

Google's mistake of not getting a license from Sun Microsystems (later acquired by Oracle) prior to making its Android platform compatible with Java apps may now cost the company billions of dollars. In an 8-year long lawsuit between the world's two major IT giants, a Washington-based appeals court has ruled against Google for unlawfully using APIs from Oracle's Java language at the time of developing Android. It is to be noted that Android has generated more than 42 billion USD in advertising revenue since its inception. 

Earlier in 2012, a district court jury had ruled in favor of Google, stating the use of Java code came under fair use but the verdict got overturned by the appeals court in 2014 when the Federal Circuit sent the case back for another jury trial to determine fair use. The new decision announced on Tuesday reverses the district court yet again and sends the case back for a third trial to determine the amount of damages to be paid by Google.

According to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, Google’s use of Java APIs in the development of Android operating system is a violation of copyright law as it was used for commercial use. “The fact that Android is free of charge does not make Google’s use of the Java API packages noncommercial,” the three-judge Federal Circuit panel in Washington stated. 

Oracle contends that even though Java was available free of cost to write applications, using it to make a competing platform was not permitted and infringes upon two patents that the company holds on Java. “The Federal Circuit’s opinion upholds fundamental principles of copyright law and makes clear that Google violated the law. This decision protects creators and consumers from the unlawful abuse of their rights, said Dorian Daley, Oracle's General Counsel in a statement.

“We are disappointed the court reversed the jury finding that Java is open and free for everyone. This type of ruling will make apps and online services more expensive for users,” said Google. 

The lawsuit has far wide implications on the software development industry and has led the industry divided on whether it was fair use on the part of Google to have used Java APIs in Android. According to Google's supporters, the move may cause harm to future mobile software development.