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Simon J. Frankel and Ethan Forrest*
Two recent decisions from the Federal Circuit in the long-running litigation between Oracle and Google have upended the scope of copyright protection afforded to software. In both decisions, the court weighed in heavily on the side of strong copyright protection, even protecting the relatively functional code comprising application programming interfaces (APIs). In its most recent decision, the court found that Google’s use in its Android software of certain APIs from Java was not fair use as a matter of law—notwithstanding a jury verdict of fair use. This essay focuses on how the Federal Circuit treated the four statutory fair use factors and suggests that the court’s analysis, if applied by other courts, will make it very difficult for any use of software to qualify as a fair use. This is because, at every turn, the court’s application of the fair use factors favors the copyright owner, creating copyright risk for any borrowing of copyright code in a new program. It remains to be seen if this approach will impact how software developers build on preexisting programs.More →