Court Rules Select Java APIs Not Copyrightable

A federal judge ruled on Thursday that the structure, sequence, and organization of 37 Java APIs owned by Oracle are not copyrightable. The ruling rendered moot a jury verdict that Google had copied that structure, and it represents another major win for the Android maker in its battle with Oracle.

Oracle vs. Google

According to CNet, Judge William Alsup issued a narrow ruling that he made sure could applied only to this specific case. Earlier in May, the same jury had ruled that Google had not infringed on patents owned by Oracle.

From the judge’s ruling:

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.

To make sure that the ruling didn’t become a precedent that would make all code un-copyrightable, Judge Alsup also wrote in his ruling that, “This order does not hold that Java API packages are free for all to use without license. It does not hold that the structure, sequence, and organization of all computer programs may be stolen. Rather, it holds on the specific facts of this case, the particular elements replicated by Google were free for all to use under the Copyright Act.”

Barring appeals, this is likely to be the last nail in the coffin for Oracle’s effort to reap a windfall from Google for ripping off Java in the creation of Android. According to both a jury and Judge Alsup, Google didn’t violate any laws in that process.