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Jury Delivers Partial Verdict in Oracle v. Google Java Showdown

The jury in the copyright case between Google and Oracle has returned a split, partial verdict as to whether Google infringed on Oracle’s copyrights of Java and its APIs. Are computing languages copyrightable? The answer is not exactly clear cut.

The jury had four questions to answer with two or three parts. The first, and most important question was:

1. As to the compilable code for the 37 Java API packages in question taken as a group:

A. Has Oracle proven that Google has infringed the overall structure, sequence and organization of copyrighted works?

Yes __________ No __________

B. Has Google proven that its use of the overall structure, sequence and organization constituted “fair use”?

Yes __________ No __________

The jury said yes to 1.A but was hung for 1.B and issued its partial verdict to Judge William Alsup. Basically, what the jury is saying is that Oracle proved that Google did indeed infringe on the style and substance of the Java APIs but did not rule on whether Google had “fair use.”

In other words. Yes, Oracle proved that Google infringed on copyright of Java APIs. Was it OK for Google to do so since Java APIs are open and free to the developer community? The jury had no answer to that.

Google’s lead attorney called for a mistrial. Judge Alsup did not grant immediately grant the request, but whether or not Oracle can press for serious damages remains in his hands. The judge told the attorneys to prepare detailed arguments on the motion and said he will likely rule in the next few days. Throughout the trial, Alsup has wanted to move the proceedings along at as brisk a pace as possible, hoping to avoid getting the court get stuck in the minutiae of programming documentation (which neither he nor the jury would understand).

On the second question on the ballot, the jury ruled that Google had not infringed upon the actual documentation of Oracle’s APIs. In essence, Google copied the SSO (structure, sequence and organization) but not the actual word-for-word language. The jury was also asked about three specific instances of Google’s supposed infringement, finding that the search company had infringed on one area (the rangeCheck method) but that it had not infringed on two others (the English-language comments part of the APIs and seven cases within files).

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