The legal battle between Oracle and Google is about to come to an end. And nothing less is as stake than the future of programming. Today lawyers for both companies are set to make their closing arguments in the fight over whether Google’s use of the Java application programming interface (API)—an arcane but critically important part of the Android mobile operating system—was legal. Regardless of how the jury rules, the case has already had a permanent effect on the way developers build software.
For a case with such potentially great impact on the tech industry, it can be tough to follow. It’s dragged on for years, and the details, both technical and legal, can get deeply esoteric. But for anyone who cares about the future of business or technology, it’s a vital case to understand. So we’ll do our best to make sense of it for you.
Oracle completed its acquisition of Sun, the makers of the Java programming language and platform, in January 2010. In August of that year, Oracle sued Google for copyright and patent infringement over the company’s use of Java-related technology in Android. Among other things, Oracle claimed that Google’s use of the Java APIs in Android violated its copyright. In 2012, a Washington DC district court ruled in Google’s favor, finding that the APIs were not subject to copyright. Unfortunately for Google, an appeals court overturned that ruling and the US Supreme Court declined to hear the case.
Now Oracle and Google are back in district court determining whether Google’s use of the APIs constitute "fair use," meaning that Google doesn’t need permission from the copyright holder in order to use them. The answer will have implications that will ripple across the software industry.
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