A copyright case provides an example of the fair use defense.
Copyright laws must preserve a protected work without stunting the progress of science and useful arts. This is not an easy balance. One legal doctrine that was developed to help courts achieve this balance was the doctrine of fair use.
This doctrine can be used as a defense to claims of copyright infringement. Google provides a recent example.
Google was accused of infringing on the copyright protections of Oracle for its use of Java. Java is a platform used to run programs. It basically serves as a translator and allows software on a hard drive to communicate. This case deals specifically with the Java Virtual Machine and the Java Application Programming Interface (API). This is a prewritten program that serves a shortcut for programmers.
The Java programming language itself is free. However, the parent company, Oracle, charges a licensing fee to those who use the API within an electronic device.
Google attempted to negotiate a deal to include the use of APIs within its Android software platform. Google was unable to reach an agreement with Oracle. Ultimately, Google chose to copy the APIs verbatim without Oracle’s approval. The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit held the APIs were subject to copyright protection.
It is undisputed that Google copied Oracle’s work. The question is whether this action falls within the fair use argument. This defense generally involves four factors: purpose and character, nature, amount used and the market harm. The burden of proof is with the accused. Thus, Google must establish all four claims to succeed. The court applied its analysis to the four elements as follows:
A review of these four factors led the court to find Google’s use was not fair as a matter of law. As such, this defense strategy did not survive.
The case provides a valuable lesson for anyone navigating a copyright issue. Those who are navigating a high stakes copyright infringement case may take this or other defensive strategies into consideration. An attorney experienced in these matters can review this and other options and craft a strategy to your situation.