Oracle has won a round in its ongoing battle with Google over copyright protection of Java. The APIs used by Java were at issue in the case, with Oracle alleging the Google had used them without providing proper compensation. The case was first brought in 2010 by Oracle, and a 2012 San Francisco jury trial found that Google had not infringed and the judge on the case stating that APIs can't be copyrighted to begin with. But Oracle being Oracle (more importantly, CEO Larry Ellison being Larry Ellison), that wasn't the end of it. So that brings us to today's appellate court ruling.
A panel of three judges ruled that Oracle is in fact entitled to copyright protection of their Java APIs. In doing so they overruled U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup's judgement that the APIs, being free to use by all, were not subject to protected by copyright and thus okay for Google to duplicate.
The appeals court is pushing the issue back down to Alsup, according to Reuters:
The unanimous Federal Circuit panel ordered further proceedings before Alsup to decide whether Google's actions were protected under fair use.
"We are mindful that the application of copyright law in the computer context is often a difficult task," Federal Circuit Judge Kathleen O'Malley wrote. "On this record, however, we find that the district court failed to distinguish between the threshold question of what is copyrightable — which presents a low bar — and the scope of conduct that constitutes infringing activity."
No kidding it's "often a difficult task." Copyright and patent law in the United States is in need of an overhaul to fix a system that leads to years of litigation over whether or not one can duplicate the function of an API. But how exactly does that law need to change?