The Judge presiding over the Oracle vs Google court case has refused to rule on the issue of ‘fair use’ over Google’s use of Java APIs in the Android OS, further suggesting that damages could be so low that the damages phase of the trial may not be necessary.
In what looks at this stage like a substantial victory for Google, Judge William Alsup said "it wouldn’t be right" for him to rule on the issue of "fair use", the point that a jury had failed to decide in their protracted deliberations.
Alsup criticised Oracle’s counsel given that the lawyers had first insisted on a trial by jury and now apparently were asking Alsup to rule on the issue of fair use as a "point of law."
So far Google has only been found to have infringed the copyright on a handful of lines of Java code which ultimately can only result in statutory damages up to US$150,000, trivial given the wealth of the companies involved and the cost of the trial itself.
The next phase of the trial will decide if Google infringed on two of Oracle’s acquired Java patents.
Alsup’s ruling also leaves the door open for him to grant Google’s motion for a mistrial. Given that Alsup has refused to rule on fair use, limiting Google’s liability to pocket change, Google may be happy with the result as it stands.
For now, the issue of whether software APIs constitute "fair use" seems to be an open question.