Google just lost a major copyright case that could cost it billions of dollars and change how tech companies approach software development.
Tuesday’s ruling is the latest development in a topsy-turvy eight-year battle between Google(Oracle ( ).) and
Oracle first brought its case against Google in 2010, claiming that Android infringes two patents that Oracleholds on its Java software, a ubiquitous programming language powering everything from phones to websites.
In 2012, a jury determined that Java does not deserve protection under copyright law. Two years later, an appeals court overturned the ruling, raising the question of whether Google’s use of Oracle‘s API violated copyright law.
A jury determined in 2016 that Google’s use of Oracle‘s APIs was legal under the copyright law’s fair usedoctrine, which allows the free use of copyrighted material under specific circumstances. Oracle appealed the decision, and a judge took its side on Tuesday.
“There is nothing fair about taking a copyrighted work verbatim and using it for the same purpose and function as the original in a competing platform,” a panel of three Federal Circuit judges wrote in Tuesday’s opinion.
Oracle said in a statement on Tuesday that the recent “decision protects creators and consumers.” Google said it is weighing its next steps. It could appeal to the full slate of judges on the court.
“We are disappointed the court reversed the jury finding that Java is open and free for everyone,” a Google spokesman said in a statement. “This type of ruling will make apps and online services more expensive for users. We are considering our options.”
Another court will decide how much Google owes Oracle in damages.
As of 2016, Oracle was seeking about $9 billion from Google. But because APIs have become much more widespread over the years, a court could decide that Oracle deserves more, said Christopher Carani, a partner with McAndrews, Held & Malloy and a professor at Northwestern’s law school.
“The numbers in this case will be staggering,” he added.