After a partial ruling on the question of copyright infringement, the Oracle v. Google saga continues. But as of yet, there’s no answer to the question everyone’s asking: Are APIs copyrightable? And if they are, what does that mean for the tech industry?
Background: Oracle claims that, when Google built the Android platform, the company infringed on Java-related copyrights and patents (acquired by Oracle when it bought Sun). This first phase of the case deals specifically with the copyright allegations and, as Wired points out, Judge William Alsup has instructed the jury to assume for the purposes of the trial that APIs can be copyrighted. Mr. Alsup will ultimately have to make that call himself.
Then the jury’s response on that copyright question is a mixed bag. On the question of whether Google has “infringed the overall structure, sequence and organization” of the 37 Java API packages at issue, CNET reports the jury returned a unanimous yes. So Google is guilty of using code written by Sun to build the Android platform. But–and this is very important–the jurors were unable to reach a decision whether Google’s actions were fair use, which vastly changes the damages question. (That’s probably because fair use is a tricky call even in situations like music, with which jurors are likely more familiar than programming languages.) This make the verdict something of a wash, though Oracle is definitely ahead.
Google, meanwhile, has moved for a mistrial, on the grounds the jury can’t rule on infringement and ignore the question of fair use. But so far that’s not even slowing the trial down. Wired‘s Caleb Garling reports from the courtroom:
Alsup doesn’t mess around. Read verdicts on copyrights. Whamo. On to patent phase. Not even a recess.
— Caleb Garling (@CalebGarling) May 7, 2012
Betabeat offers condolences to the jurors stuck hashing this out, as opposed to ruling the seXXXy Tumblr lawsuit.