Supreme Court sides with Google over Oracle in case of Android code

Android’s use of Java code constituted fair use, the Supreme Court ruled. 

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The US Supreme Court has ruled for Google in the battle between the search giant and Oracle over the architecture of Google’s Android operating system. In a 6-2 decision published on Monday and written by Justice Stephen Breyer, the court ruled that “Google’s copying of the Java SE API, which included only those lines of code that were needed to allow programmers to put their accrued talents to work in a new and transformative program, was a fair use of that material as a matter of law.” 

At issue was Oracle’s claim that Google copied Java code from Sun Microsystems in creating its popular Android OS, with CNBC noting that the case concerned the use of 12,000 lines of code. Oracle bought Sun in 2010, with the company later suing Google for almost $9 billion in damages over illegally using that software. 

Google claimed that its use of the software was allowed as “fair use,” with the company winning the first major legal battle in this case in 2016 only to have an appeals court overturn the decision two years later. After Google repeated petitioning, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case last year.  

“Today’s Supreme Court decision in Google v. Oracle is a big win for innovation, interoperability & computing,” Kent Walker, Google’s senior vice president of global affairs, said on Twitter following the news. “Thanks to the country’s leading innovators, software engineers & copyright scholars for their support.”

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Dorian Daley, Oracle’s executive vice president and general counsel, said that Google’s win is just the latest example of the search giant’s power.

“The Google platform just got bigger and market power greater. The barriers to entry higher and the ability to compete lower. They stole Java and spent a decade litigating as only a monopolist can,” Daley wrote in a statement posted to Oracle’s website. “This behavior is exactly why regulatory authorities around the world and in the United States are examining Google’s business practices.”

Joining the majority opinion were Chief Justice John Roberts and justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh; Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented. Justice Amy Coney Barrett did not participate as she was not confirmed by the Senate in time for the case to be heard last October. 

CNET’s Richard Nieva contributed to this report.

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