The Supreme Court sided Monday with Google in an $8 billion copyright dispute with Oracle over the internet company’s creation of the Android operating system used on most smartphones worldwide.
To create Android, which was released in 2007, Google wrote millions of lines of new computer code. But it also used 11,330 lines of code and an organization that’s part of Oracle’s Java platform.
Google had argued that what it did is long-settled, common practice in the industry, a practice that has been good for technical progress. And it said there is no copyright protection for the purely functional, noncreative computer code it used, something that couldn’t be written another way. But Oracle said Google “committed an egregious act of plagiarism,” and it sued.
The justices sided with Google 6-2 in a 62-page opinion on Monday. Justice Stephen Breyer delivered the opinion for the majority, joined by Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Chief Justice John Roberts. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented.
Breyer wrote that in reviewing a lower court’s decision, the justices assumed “for argument’s sake, that the material was copyrightable.”
“But we hold that the copying here at issue nonetheless constituted a fair use. Hence, Google’s copying did not violate the copyright law,” he wrote.
Thomas wrote in a dissent joined by Alito that he believed “Oracle’s code at issue here is copyrightable, and Google’s use of that copyrighted code was anything but fair.”
Only eight justices heard the case because it was argued in October, after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg but before Justice Amy Coney Barrett joined the court. The case has been going on for a decade.
Microsoft, IBM and major internet and tech industry lobbying groups had weighed in, in favor of Google. The Motion Picture Association and the Recording Industry Association of America were among those supporting Oracle.