The jury in the copyright case between Google and Oracle has returned a split, partial verdict as to whether Google infringed on Oracle’s copyrights of Java and its APIs. Are computing languages copyrightable? The answer is not exactly clear cut.

The jury had four questions to answer with two or three parts. The first, and most important question was:

1. As to the compilable code for the 37 Java API packages in question taken as a group:

A. Has Oracle proven that Google has infringed the overall structure, sequence and organization of copyrighted works?

Yes __________ No __________

B. Has Google proven that its use of the overall structure, sequence and organization constituted “fair use”?

Yes __________ No __________

The jury said yes to 1.A but was hung for 1.B and issued its partial verdict to Judge William Alsup. Basically, what the jury is saying is that Oracle proved that Google did indeed infringe on the style and substance of the Java APIs but did not rule on whether Google had “fair use.”

In other words. Yes, Oracle proved that Google infringed on copyright of Java APIs. Was it OK for Google to do so since Java APIs are open and free to the developer community? The jury had no answer to that.

Google’s lead attorney called for a mistrial. Judge Alsup did not grant immediately grant the request, but whether or not Oracle can press for serious damages remains in his hands. The judge told the attorneys to prepare detailed arguments on the motion and said he will likely rule in the next few days. Throughout the trial, Alsup has wanted to move the proceedings along at as brisk a pace as possible, hoping to avoid getting the court get stuck in the minutiae of programming documentation (which neither he nor the jury would understand).

On the second question on the ballot, the jury ruled that Google had not infringed upon the actual documentation of Oracle’s APIs. In essence, Google copied the SSO (structure, sequence and organization) but not the actual word-for-word language. The jury was also asked about three specific instances of Google’s supposed infringement, finding that the search company had infringed on one area (the rangeCheck method) but that it had not infringed on two others (the English-language comments part of the APIs and seven cases within impl.java files). 

Depending on what Alsup decides later in the week, Google could escape the copyright phase with minimal financial damage. The fourth two-part question is for Judge Alsup’s use, likely in the case of a partial verdict, such as the one he just received. 

4. Answer the following special interrogatories only if you answer “yes” to Question 1A.

A. Has Google proven that Sun and/or Oracle engaged in conduct Sun and/or Oracle knew or should have known would reasonably lead Google to believe that it would not need a license to use the structure, sequence, and organization of the copyrighted compilable code?

Yes __________ No __________

B. If so, has Google proven that it in fact reasonably relied on such conduct by Sun and/or Oracle in deciding to use the structure, sequence, and organization of the copyrighted compilable code without obtaining a license?

Yes __________ No __________

The answer to 4.A was yes, 4.B was no. This comes down to the issues of what Google believed and how did it believe it. Did Google really think that it needed to license certain aspects of the APIs from Oracle and/or Sun Microsystems or did the actions of Sun lead Google to believe it did not need to license Java? This is where the complicated issue of emails between Google engineers and executives comes into play - as well as actions such as former Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz congratulating Google on the launch of Android. 

What does it all mean?

First, it means that Google is not going to walk out of this case without paying a penny. There will be some type of damages awarded to Oracle, eventually. The amount will depend on what happens in Phase 2 of the trial on patent violation. But Google skated on the documentation portion (and two of the three important infringements), which could end up to its benefit depending on what Alsup decides on the jury’s hung answer to question 1.B. 

Google issued a statement after the verdict:

"We appreciate the jury's efforts, and know that fair use and infringement are two sides of the same coin. The core issue is whether the APIs here are copyrightable, and that's for the court to decide. We expect to prevail on this issue and Oracle's other claims."

After the jury rendered its verdict, Phase 2 of the trial started immediately with both Oracle and Google starting their arguments to the jury over whether Google violated Oracle’s patents on Java.