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You are here: Home Blogs Licensing FSF statement on Court of Appeals ruling in Oracle v Google

FSF statement on Court of Appeals ruling in Oracle v Google

by Free Software Foundation Contributions Published on May 27, 2014 11:21 AM
The Federal Circuit has ruled in Oracle's favor, which has reintroduced confusion and uncertainty on a user's freedom to use APIs.

On May 9, 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed Judge Alsup's 2012 ruling that Oracle wasn't entitled to copyright control for a large portion of the Java API, copies of which Oracle alleged appeared in Google's Android development libraries. Judge Alsup's decision originally clarified Google's right to continue unabated in its distribution and development of the Android development libraries that were similar to Java's. The Federal Circuit has now ruled in Oracle's favor, which has reintroduced confusion and uncertainty on this issue. The case is now remanded back to the district court to determine whether or not Google will succeed in using a "fair use" defense regarding the alleged copyright infringement.

In May 2012, the Jury of the District Court had issued a partial verdict and we were left waiting for Alsup's verdict on the remainder of the case. At the time, the FSF issued the following statement:

Were it grounded in reality, Oracle's claim that copyright law gives them proprietary control over any software that uses a particular functional API would be terrible for free software and programmers everywhere. It is an unethical and greedy interpretation created with the express purpose of subjugating as many computer users as possible, and is particularly bad in this context because it comes at a time when the sun has barely set on the free software community's celebration of Java as a language newly suitable for use in the free world. Fortunately, the claim is not yet reality, and we hope Judge Alsup will keep it that way.

The situation then is substantially similar to the situation today. The key difference is that some of Google's affirmative defenses to claim non-infringement have been eliminated by this new ruling. The FSF now sincerely hopes for the next best thing to Alsup's original ruling: that Google is successful in its fair use defense.

Notwithstanding our support of Google's fair use defense, the FSF urges caution to all prospective Android users. Even though the core of the Android system is free, every Android device sold comes pre-loaded with a variety of proprietary applications and proprietary hardware drivers. The FSF encourages users to support the development of Replicant, a distribution of Android that is 100% free software. The FSF also encourages users of any Android-based system to install F-Droid, a free replacement for the Google Play app that allows users to browse, install, and receive updates from a repository of free software Android apps. Replicant uses F-Droid as its default repository.

Disclosure: Google currently donates to the FSF and Oracle has donated to the FSF in the past.

About the Free Software Foundation

The Free Software Foundation, founded in 1985, is dedicated to promoting computer users' right to use, study, copy, modify, and redistribute computer programs. The FSF promotes the development and use of free (as in freedom) software -- particularly the GNU operating system and its GNU/Linux variants -- and free documentation for free software. The FSF also helps to spread awareness of the ethical and political issues of freedom in the use of software, and its Web sites, located at fsf.org and gnu.org, are an important source of information about GNU/Linux. Donations to support the FSF's work can be made at https://donate.fsf.org. Its headquarters are in Boston, MA, USA.

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