Google faces $9bn damages bill after Oracle wins copyright claim

Appeal court ruling could have huge ramifications for API usage among tech firms

Oracle's eight-year copyright battle with Google has a new ruling, with the Federal Court deciding yesterday that Google violated Oracle's copyright when it re-used elements of Java to create its Android operating system.

Judge William Alsup ruled that Google had no 'fair use' protection when it built a custom version of the software giant's Java platform. This reverses the decision reached by a district court that Google's use of Java APIs was legitimate.

"Because we conclude that Google's use of the Java API packages was not fair as a matter of law, we reverse the district court's decisions denying Oracle's motions for JMOL and remand for a trial on damages," Alsup wrote.

It's the latest round of a legal battle that has been running since 2010, but this latest ruling in favour of Oracle could have far-reaching consequences for software companies. While Google no longer uses Java in Android, many tech companies have borrowed Java APIs, so the new ruling potentially leaves them open to lawsuits.

However, while the case has now been referred back to a district court to determine damages for Oracle (it has asked for $8.8 billion), the search engine can appeal to the Supreme Court.

"We are disappointed the court reversed the jury finding that Java is open and free for everyone," Google spokesperson Patrick Lenihan said in a statement. "This type of ruling will make apps and online services more expensive for users. We are considering our options."

It must appeal if it is to avoid paying damages sought by Oracle.

History

Sum Microsystems, which built the Java language, was acquired by Oracle in 2010, which then filed its initial lawsuit against Google. The first meeting in a district court went Google's way, as a jury ruled that APIs were not subject to copyright. This was appealed by Oracle and sent back to District Court to determine whether Google was protected by fair use.

In 2016 a jury then ruled that Google was protected under the fair use policy, but that was appealed and again overturned before being revisited on Tuesday in the Federal Court.

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