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The Supreme Court ruled Monday that Google did not violate copyright law by using parts of Oracle's Java API to build Android, overturning a federal court decision in favor of Oracle and setting a future precedent that copying an API can qualify as fair use.
In the 6-2 decision, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote that APIs are different from other types of computer code. "As part of an interface, the copied lines are inherently bound together with uncopyrightable ideas (the overall organization of the API) and the creation of new creative expression (the code independently written by Google). Unlike many other computer programs, the value of the copied lines is in significant part derived from the investment of users (here computer programmers) who have learned the API's system," Breyer wrote for the majority.
Had the justices ruled in favor of Oracle, the decision could have opened the door for highly lucrative licensing contracts for the legacy software companies, like Oracle, that created some of the first APIs. The ruling in favor of Google will more likely maintain the current status quo.
Anna Kramer is a reporter at Protocol (@ anna_c_kramer), where she helps write and produce Source Code, Protocol's daily newsletter. Prior to joining the team, she covered tech and small business for the San Francisco Chronicle and privacy for Bloomberg Law. She is a recent graduate of Brown University, where she studied International Relations and Arabic and wrote her senior thesis about surveillance tools and technological development in the Middle East.