Google beats Oracle in landmark Supreme Court case

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The Supreme Court ruled Monday in favor of Google in a long-running copyright dispute against Oracle that has huge implications for Silicon Valley — with the court finding that Google did not violate the law when it used more than 11,000 lines of Oracle’s software code in developing its Android mobile operating system.

Why Silicon Valley can’t stop staring: The U.S. tech industry has been deeply invested in the outcome of the case because it will shape the country’s rules around building software, the process upon which the multi-trillion-dollar sector rests.

It is a key ruling on how U.S. copyright applies to API, software code that enables programs to work with each other.

The details of the decade-plus dispute: In the case, which dates back to 2010, Google had stood accused of pilfering chunks of API code developed by Sun Microsystems, which was later acquired by Oracle.

Google argued that this type of code is often used freely by developers to increase interoperability between different products, and that even if such code is copyrightable — as Oracle had argued — it should be covered by the law’s “fair use” provisions, which allow the unlicensed use of otherwise copyrighted material under some circumstances.

Oracle argued that the code is copyrightable, that it should have been paid for Google’s use of it and that while some standard code is exempt from the protections, the Java code was anything but standard.

The Supreme Court sided with Google, saying, “Google’s copying of the Java SE API, which included only those lines of code that were needed to allow programmers to put their accrued talents to work in a new and transformative program, was a fair use of that material as a matter of law.”

What lies beneath: Google and Oracle are fierce political adversaries, with each side arguing that the other plays unfair not simply in business, but in the tech policy debates that have gripped Washington in recent years. Those range from antitrust to privacy to how much latitude online platforms should have in policing user posts on their sites.

What’s next: Google’s victory in the case could provide it — and its allies — with political momentum as it wages those larger policy battles in the months and years to come.

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