Google Demands Mistrial in Java Copyright Case

Dennis Faas's picture

A San Francisco jury has decided that Google did copy Java code when creating its Android system. However, the jury said it couldn't decide if this copying was 'fair use' or not, leading Google to demand a mistrial.

The complex case involves Java, a computer language used in creating applications that can run on many platforms. The rights to the language currently belong to the software firm Oracle.

Google stood accused of directly copying code from Java and using it when creating Android, its operating system for mobile devices like smartphones and tablet computers.

Oracle launched a lawsuit demanding $1 billion dollars in compensation.

Google Copied Code, Not Documentation

The jury was asked to give a verdict on four specific issues. Two involved Google allegedly copying information from the documentation that accompanies Java. In both these instances, the jury said Google was innocent.

The remaining two issues involved Google's use of code taken from the Java API (application programming interface), a tool designed to simplify integrating different software or systems.

The jury had to decide if Google copied code. Finding nine identical lines of code in Java and the Android system, the jury concluded Google was guilty on this charge.

Then the jury had to decide whether or not Google's use of the copied code was allowed by 'fair use' provisions. After four days of deliberations, the jury said it was unable to agree on a verdict. (Source:

Google is now arguing that because the one issue remained unresolved, all four verdicts should be thrown out and the entire case declared a mistrial. The judge is currently considering this request.

Google Escapes Billion-Dollar Blow

Whatever happens, it's unlikely Google will have to pay large penalties. The judge has said that any damages awarded to Oracle would be limited to $150,000 per copyright infringement.

He rejected Oracle's argument that Google should pay more to reflect the large profits it made from the Android system.

There's also some legal uncertainty over whether code in an API can actually be copyrighted. Lawyers in a similar case in Europe argued that an API is designed to be used by people other than its creators.

There are two further issues yet to be heard in the case. They both involve claims that Google breached patents rather than copyright when copying the code.

These two issues represent the biggest remaining financial danger to Google. If the company is found to have breached the patents, the penalty would be on the order of $100 million, far less than the $1 billion sought by Oracle. (Source:

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