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Most jurors sided with Google on APIs and 'fair use'

James Niccolai | May 24, 2012
Most of the jurors in the Oracle v Google trial thought Google's use of 37 Java APIs in Android should be allowed under the doctrine of fair use, one of the jurors revealed Wednesday after the trial had ended.

The judge in the case, William Alsup, has still to make an important ruling on whether the Java APIs can be copyrighted at all under U.S. law. That's a contentious issue and one that could have ramifications for programmers on other platforms.

He has been considering that question throughout the trial and could issue his ruling next week.

If Alsup decides the Java APIs cannot be copyrighted, the question of fair use becomes irrelevant for now, though Oracle is likely to appeal the judge's ruling to a higher court.

If Alsup rules that the Java APIs can be copyrighted, he will have to decide how to proceed on the question of fair use. One option, which Google favors, is to start the whole trial over before a new jury. Oracle's preference is to retain the infringement part of the verdict and have a new jury decide the question of fair use.

Alsup may also have another option. If he decides the Java APIs can legally be covered by copyright, Google is likely to appeal that decision. If it does, Alsup might let the higher court hear its appeal before making another jury consider the question of fair use. That way, if the higher court decides that the APIs can't be copyrighted, a second jury's time hasn't been wasted.

Whatever happens next, Oracle has emerged from this trial with much less than it hoped for. Last year, its damages expert was discussing awards for Oracle as high as US$6 billion. The judge asked him to redo his calculations twice, and by the time the trial started, Oracle was seeking about $1 billion in damages.

In the end, Oracle managed to hold Google liable for copying just nine lines of code into Android, for a function called rangeCheck, and eight other small files. The judge will decide what damages Oracle is to receive for that infringement, though they are not expected to exceed a few hundred thousand dollars.


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