April 6

Fair Use & The Oracle API


This case is huge for software developers. SCOTUS held all of the factors in the 4-factor test for fair use in favor of Google’s transformative use of Oracle’s API calls, which amount to only 0.4% of the source code. As a result, Google’s use constitutes fair use as a matter of law.

The 4 guiding factors considered were the purpose and character of the use; the nature of the copyrighted work; the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

The fact that the use was narrowly tailored to the particular transformative use, which had a positive impact on the market, favored fair use, especially since the code was inextricably linked to the functioning of the transformative operating system for phones that Google developed (and not due to its aesthetic qualities). According to the 6-member majority of the 8 justices that considered this case, it was inherently different than other types of code that instruct a computer to execute a task.

“As part of an interface, the copied lines are inherently bound together with uncopyrightable ideas (the overall organization of the API) and the creation of new creative expression (the code independently written by Google). Unlike many other computer programs, the value of the copied lines is in significant part derived from the investment of users (here computer programmers) who have learned the API’s system. Given these differences, application of fair use here is unlikely to undermine the general copyright protection that Congress provided for computer programs.”

The takeaways are substantial. It is unlikely that borrowing API calls to make your original code easier to develop for programmers will be found to infringe a copyright in software. That’s enough. But there might be more that comes out of this case. The way that SCOTUS analyzed the 4 factors in order to find for Google could be used by copyright litigation attorneys to extend this to other functional aspects of computer code that don’t instruct a computer to execute tasks.

It’s still a good idea to register copyrights in computer code, and Paradies Law P.A. can help you do that by starting here: https://www.cognitoforms.com/ParadiesIPSolutionsLLC/copyrightregistrationworksheetprotectcopyright. Fees applied at checkout.


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