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Google wins copyright clash with Oracle over computer code

The Supreme Court on Monday sided with Google over Oracle in a major copyright battle, ruling that Google’s copying of a portion of the Java SE computer program is protected as “fair use.”

The ruling in Google v. Oracle was 6-2, with Justice Stephen Breyer delivering the opinion of the court. Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Justice Samuel Alito, dissented. Justice Amy Coney Barrett did not participate because she was not yet on the court when the case was argued in October.

The case involved Google’s use of certain code in its Android operating system. Google wanted Android to understand commands commonly used in the Java SE platform (which is now owned by Oracle), so it used within Android about 11,000 lines of code from Java SE. Oracle claimed that the re-use of that code without permission constituted copyright infringement.

In siding with Google, Breyer wrote that, assuming for the sake of argument that the lines of code can be copyrighted, Google’s copying is nonetheless fair use. The fair-use doctrine permits unauthorized use of copyrighted material in some circumstances, including when the copying “transforms” the original material to create something new.

“Google reimplemented a user interface, taking only what was needed to allow users to put their accrued talents to work in a new and transformative program,” Breyer wrote.

Check back soon for in-depth analysis of the opinion.

[Disclosure: Goldstein & Russell, P.C., whose attorneys contribute to this blog in various capacities, is among the counsel to the petitioner in this case. The author of this post is not affiliated with the firm.]

Recommended Citation: James Romoser, Google wins copyright clash with Oracle over computer code, SCOTUSblog (Apr. 5, 2021, 11:00 AM),