Google liable for copyright infringement, jury finds

The panel deadlocked on the issue of fair use

By , IDG News Service |  IT Management, copyright, Google

A jury has found Google liable for copyright infringement in its use of Java in Android, but has not managed to decide whether that infringement was protected by rules governing "fair use."

The verdict, delivered Monday after a week of jury deliberation, is a partial victory for Oracle in its lawsuit against Google, but Oracle will have to wait longer -- possibly for a retrial -- to see whether Google will escape liability with its claim of fair use.

Google's attorney, Robert Van Nest, immediately told the judge that Google would file for a mistrial. Google's argument will be that the same jury must decide both the copyright infringement and fair use issues. The judge told both sides to submit legal briefs on that issue.

As soon as the verdict was delivered Monday, the trial moved into the patents phase of the case, with Oracle making its opening statement. The trial is in three parts, to address copyrights, patents, and then any damages Oracle should receive.

But although the patents phase is under way, the copyright phase is far from concluded. As well as the outstanding issue of fair use, Judge William Alsup , who is hearing the case, must decide whether Oracle's Java APIs (application programming interfaces) can be copyrighted at all under U.S. law.

Historically, APIs have not been considered copyrightable. But Oracle argues that the the "structure, sequence and organization" of the 166 API packages in Java are sufficiently complex to merit protection.

Google has until late Monday to submit its arguments on that issue to Alsup. The judge has not said when he will rule on the law question, but some observers expect it to happen before the damages phase of the trial begins in about two weeks.

"We appreciate the jury's efforts and know that fair use and infringement are two sides of the same coin," Google said in a statement sent via email. "The core issue is whether the APIs here are copyrightable, and that's for the court to decide. We expect to prevail on this issue and Oracle's other claims."

Oracle thanked the jury for the verdict. "The overwhelming evidence demonstrated that Google knew it needed a license and that its unauthorized fork of Java in Android shattered Java's central write once run anywhere principle," it said.

At least one industry analyst was troubled by the jury's decision. "I was a bit disappointed by the verdict, as I think that the precedent of copyright for APIs opens up a real can of worms and potentially stifles software innovation," Forrester analyst Jeffrey Hammond said via email.

"The silver lining was the deadlock on fair use," he said.

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