WASHINGTON (April 5, 2021)—The R Street Institute applauds the Supreme Court’s decision in Google v. Oracle as a major victory for the fair use doctrine and innovation.

The Supreme Court’s decision determined that Google’s limited copying of the Java SE computer program was “fair use” as a matter of law. The 6-2 decision was authored by Justice Stephen Breyer, with Justices Thomas and Alito dissenting. Justice Barrett did not participate. The decision was a strong defense of the concept of fair use, which allows the use of copyrighted material for limited and transformative purposes. Here, the outcome will lead to greater freedom and flexibility for programmers and businesses.

In this case, Google copied 11,500 lines of Java SE (owned by Oracle) when it was building the Android platform for mobile devices. In particular, Google copied the application programming interface (API) code, a necessary step to ensuring compatibility and interoperability. Reusing API code allows programmers to insert existing code for complex tasks into their own programming, thus avoiding additional unnecessary, error-prone, redundant engineering efforts. Oracle took Google to court under copyright law, and after an earlier determination in Oracle’s favor of copyrightability of API code, Google appealed to the Supreme Court asserting a fair use defense. Today’s decision resolves this decade old dispute in favor of Google and the importance of fair use on innovation.

Charles Duan, R Street senior fellow and co-author of R Street’s brief said: “The decision is a major win for competition and consumer choice in the information technology market. By ruling that Google’s reimplementation of APIs was fair use and thus not an infringement of copyright, the Court largely ensures that software startups and small firms can build products that are compatible with incumbents, enabling them to win market share on a level playing field without threats of costly copyright litigation.”

Chris Riley, R Street resident senior fellow for internet governance added: “Application Programming Interfaces, or APIs, are at the heart of the internet’s power as an engine for economic and social value. The Supreme Court’s decision recognizes and preserves the value of APIs by finding reuse to be fair as a matter of law. The court avoided cataclysmic outcomes for the internet and paved a path for continued innovation and growth in software and technology.”

R Street is a strong advocate for fair use and filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court in this case, together with Public Knowledge and the Niskanen Center. Justice Breyer cites the Brief for R Street Institute et al. in the majority opinion.

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