Google Allowed to Exploit "Fair Use" Defense in Android Trial

Judge Alsup's ruling means the issue of fair use will likely be put to a new jury.
By James Niccolai
News May 10th 2012

Oracle was dealt a minor setback in its lawsuit against Google when a judge denied its motion to toss out one of Google's key defenses against copyright infringement.

A jury found Google had infringed Oracle's copyrights on the APIs (application programming interfaces) in Java, but was unable to agree on whether that infringement was protected by "fair use," which allows for copying under certain circumstances.

With the jury hung on that issue, Oracle had asked the judge in the case, William Alsup, to rule as a matter of law that Google's fair use defense was invalid. Such rulings are granted when a judge, having heard all the evidence in a case, concludes there is no question left for a jury to decide.

Alsup ruled from the bench that he was denying the motion. "I don't think it would be right to rule in favor of Oracle," he said.

It doesn't mean Google has escaped liability for copyright infringement, but it means the question of fair use will probably now go to another jury. That means a partial retrial of the case is more likely.

Alsup made his ruling from the bench after two hours of intense argument from trial lawyers for Google and Oracle. The arguments also touched on a bigger, more important issue in the case -- that of whether the Java APIs can be copyrighted under U.S. law at all. The judge said he is "working hard on that" question and did not yet make a ruling.

Alsup did rule in Oracle's favor on two smaller issues. Google had asked Alsup to overturn the jury's finding that it infringed Oracle's copyright by copying nine lines of code in Java known as the rangeCheck function, and by copying documentation that accompanies the Java APIs. Alsup denied both motions, saying the jury reached those decisions on reasonable grounds.