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The substantiality fair-use factor will generally weigh in favor of fair use where the amount of copying was tethered to a valid, and transformative, purpose.
Oracle America, Inc., was the owner of a copyright in Java SE, a computer platform that used the popular Java computer programming language. In 2005, Google acquired Android and sought to build a new software platform for mobile devices. To allow the millions of programmers familiar with the Java programming language to work with its new Android platform, Google copied roughly 11,500 lines of code from the Java SE program. The copied lines were part of a tool called an Application Programming Interface (API). An API allowed programmers to call upon prewritten computing tasks for use in their own programs. Over the course of protracted litigation, the lower courts have considered whether Java SE’s owner could copyright the copied lines from the API, and if so, whether Google’s copying constituted a permissible “fair use” of that material freeing Google from copyright liability. The Federal Circuit held that the copied lines were copyrightable. After a jury then found for Google on fair use, the Federal Circuit reversed, concluding that Google’s copying was not a fair use as a matter of law. Prior to remand for a trial on damages, the Court agreed to review the Federal Circuit’s determinations as to both copyrightability and fair use.
Did Google’s act of copying 11,500 lines of code from the Java SE program constitute fair use of the material?
The Court assumed, for argument's sake, that the declaring code that made up the API was copyrightable. Nonetheless, the Court found that the copying constituted a fair use. The fact that computer programs were primarily functional made it difficult to apply traditional copyright concepts in the technological world. The Court reached the conclusion that in this case, where Google reimplemented a user interface, taking only what was needed to allow users to put their accrued talents to work in a new and transformative program, Google’s copying of the API was a fair use of that material as a matter of law. Hence, Google’s copying did not violate the copyright law.