Copyright Case

Oracle America v. Google

Oracle America sued Google for patent and copyright infringement based on Google’s use of Oracle’s Java API in its Android software in the Northern District of California. The case first focused on whether the Java APIs in question were protected under copyright, which in May 2014, the Federal Circuit held that they were. The case was heard again in the Northern District of California, but this time on Google’s claims that its use was fair use. In May 2016, a jury found in favor of Google, holding that its use of Oracle’s Java API was fair use. Oracle filed a motion to challenge the verdict, which the district court denied in June 2016.

Oracle appealed to the Federal Circuit on the adverse fair use ruling and Google cross-appealed to preserve the claim that the Java APIs were not copyrightable. In March 2018, the Federal Circuit reversed the district court’s decision and remanded for a trial on damages. The Court weighed the first and fourth factor heavily in favor of Oracle, the second factor in favor of Google, and weighed the third factor as neutral. After balancing all factors, the Court found that Google’s use was not a fair use as a matter of law. The Court also denied Google’s cross appeal regarding the copyrightability of the Java APIs at issue, holding that the Court’s previous opinion in 2014 resolved that question.

Google filed a cert petition with the Supreme Court in January 2019, asking the Court to review both Federal Circuit decisions. The Supreme Court called for the views of the Solicitor General April 29, 2019. The Solicitor General recommended the Court deny the petition, saying the Federal Circuit correctly held both that neither Section 102(b) nor the merger doctrine forecloses copyright protection and no reasonable jury could find fair use on this record and that further review was not warranted.

On November 15, 2019, the Supreme Court granted Google’s cert petition. The questions presented were:

1. Whether copyright protection extends to a software interface.

2. Whether, as the jury found, petitioner’s use of a software interface in the context of creating a new computer program constitutes fair use.

On April 5, 2021, the Supreme Court issued its decision, holding that Google’s unauthorized use of Oracle’s declaring code qualifies as fair use. In its 6–2 decision (delivered by Justice Breyer, with Justices Thomas & Alito dissenting), the Supreme Court ruled that “for argument’s sake,” Oracle’s underlying code is copyrightable but that all four fair use factors weigh in favor of Google. The opinion states that “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.” While the Court found that Google’s copying qualified as fair use, it rejected Google’s argument that fair use defenses must be resolved by a jury, explaining that fair use is ultimately a legal question and “the right of trial by jury does not include the right to have a jury resolve a fair use defense.” Justice Thomas’ dissenting opinion is critical of the majority’s fair use analysis, arguing that it mistakenly attempts to distinguish between different types of computer code and that it conflates transformative use with derivative use. 

Procedural History

Status: Decided by the Supreme Court

Supreme Court (2021)

Opinion (April 5, 2021)

Oracle Brief (February 12, 2020)

Google Opening Brief (January 6, 2020)

Amicus Briefs

In support of Respondent
In support of Neither Party
In support of Petitioner

Cert Petition (2019)

Solicitor General Brief (Sept. 27, 2019)

Google Reply Brief (April 10, 2019)

Oracle Response in Opposition (Mar. 27, 2019)

Google Petition for Writ of Certiorari (Feb. 25, 2019)

Amicus Briefs

In support of Petitioner

Federal Circuit (2018)

Google’s petition for rehearing en banc (May 29, 2018)

Federal Circuit Decision (March 27, 2018)

Amicus Briefs

In Support of Oracle

In Support of Google

Federal Circuit (2014)

Federal Circuit Decision (May 9, 2014)


NDCA Order Denying Rule 50 Motions (June 8, 2016)

NDCA Jury Verdict (May 26, 2016)

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