A jury found Google guilty of copyright infringement in its Android operating system on Monday, though the same jury deadlocked on whether Google has fair use right to the code in question. The verdict is just the first phase of three verdicts the jury is expected to hand down in the case, which was brought against Google by Oracle.
The case in front of the jury was brought against Google by Oracle, which sued Google for copyright and patent infringement in Android OS. Oracle believes that Google knowingly copied parts of Java in Android, in particular in Android’s application programming interfaces, or APIs.
Java was developed by Sun Microsystems, a company that Oracle purchased in 2009 for US$7.4 billion. Oracle then sued Google in 2010, accusing the company of copyright and patent infringement, as mentioned above.
That case has revealed many things, including such tidbits as CEO Larry Page not being able to remember key details of Android development and the revelation that he doesn’t consider Android critical to his company’s success.
The case has reached the verdict phase, however, and the jury found that Google is guilty of copyright infringement in its Android code, meaning that parts of Android were merely copied from Java, according to The San Jose Mercury News.
At the same time, however, the jury was hung on whether or not Google had fair use right to use the code in question. This means that the verdict wasn’t unanimous one way or the other, and the reality is that this is the more important of the two verdicts. Google can copy all day long if it has a fair use right to do so.
Typically, use of copyrighted material for the purposes of criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research are protected, and are not considered copyright infringement.
An attorney who is not involved in this case spoke to The Mac Observer on background, and told us that under 17 U.S.C. § 107, the factors a jury may consider when deciding upon the applicability of fair use are:
- The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
- The nature of the copyrighted work;
- The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
- The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
The jury was apparently unable to come to an agreement on these issues as they relate to this case. A quick perusal of that list of noninfringing uses might lead one to wonder why, but that’s what the court system is for.
There are two kinds of “next” in this case. Firstly, there are still two more verdicts to be handed down, including a patent infringement verdict and a damages verdict.
As far as the copyright case, however, things are messy. As noted above, Google has been found guilty of infringing but the hung jury on fair use leaves the whole thing up in the air. Google can request that a mistrial be declared based on the hung jury, which would mean the whole trial would have to be begun again with a new jury.
Alternately, Oracle can ask that the judge issue a ruling on the fair use issue based on law—juries decide issues of fact, judges decide issues of law. The judge can also ask the jury to go back to deliberating, perhaps with additional or narrowed instructions.
Once all that is over, the appeals can begin.