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Google v. Oracle court case decided on ‘fair use’

Google headquarters in Mountain View, California (Photo: Dan Bammes)

SALT LAKE CITY — A specialist in intellectual property law at the University of Utah law school says that after the supreme court’s decision Monday, on the Google versus Oracle case, it’s likely software developers will be more specific in the future when they tell users what they can and can’t do with their software. 

Google won the 6-2 decision based on the concept of fair use under copyright law.

“They’ll be careful to spell out in the documentation what you can and can’t do with those languages,” Contreras told KSL Newsradio.

The case grew out of Google’s use of the Java programming language to develop the Android operating system for mobile devices. Google lifted about 11,500 lines of computer code from the Java API, or application program interface. Java was developed by Sun Microsystems, which was acquired by Oracle.

Professor Contreras said the court decided the case on the basis of ‘fair use,’ a long-standing concept of copyright law.

“It’s 11,500 lines of code out of about 2.3 million,” Contreras said, “and so, in totality, it’s not actually, I think the court said it was 0.4% of the work.”

Fair use allows, among other things, a newspaper to quote a passage from a novel for purposes of comment and review, and there are other exceptions permitted by statute and case law.

The case between Google and Oracle has dragged on for about ten years, with billions of dollars at stake.


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