The copyright phase of the Google-Oracle trial ended with the jury’s decision that Google was guilty of infringing Oracle’s Java API copyrights, but Oracle won’t be awarded the $1 billion in damages since the jury’s decision wasn’t unanimous.
The jury found that Google infringed Oracle’s copyrights for programming tools and nine lines of code, which would only amount to $150,000. The court still needs to determine whether APIs are copyrightable or not, and that’s US District Judge William Alsup’s job.
After the partial verdict, Google plans on filing for a mistrial for the copyright phase stating that the verdict has no legal standing without an answer on the question of fair use. Google is still hoping that Judge Alsup would rule that APIs aren’t copyrightable and if this happens, the trial ends.
“The jury didn’t decide API are copyrightable,” Pamela Jones, intellectual property law reporter, paralegal, and founder of Groklaw explained in an interview with ZDNet. “They can’t. That’s a question of law, and the judge is the one that has to decide that issue.”
Jones also added that Judge Alsup “decided that he’d let the jury decide the fair use issue first, and then if they found fair use, he wouldn’t have to reach that decision. But if they found infringement and no fair use, then he would decide if APIs are copyrightable and more specifically if their arrangement is protectible.”
Even when Judge Alsup rules APIs are or aren’t copyrightable, there’s a high probability that the case won’t end with that. Either of the two parties will probably file another case or file an appeal to the 9th Circuit or the US Federal Court who has jurisdiction over the decision of district courts.
If APIs are declared copyrightable, this could be troublesome for programmers and consumers as well.
“Treating APIs as copyrightable would have a profound negative impact on interoperability, and, therefore, innovation,” said the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). “APIs are ubiquitous and fundamental to all kinds of program development. It is safe to say that all software developers use APIs to make their software work with other software. For example, the developers of an application like Firefox use APIs to make their application work with various OSes by asking the OS to do things like make network connections, open files, and display windows on the screen. Allowing a party to assert control over APIs means that a party can determine who can make compatible and interoperable software, an idea that is anathema to those who create the software we rely on everyday. Put clearly, the developer of a platform should not be able to control add-on software development for that platform.”