Jury returns illogical verdict in part one of Oracle v. Google

The Oracle v. Google trial is loosely divided into three phases: a determination of copyright infringement, a determination of patent infringement, and a damages phase. In the first phase, the jury found that Google infringed the copyright on the overall structure, sequence and organization of Oracle's Java language. Sounds good for Oracle, right? Well …

The jurors were at an impasse on whether Google proved it limited its use of the Java code to "fair use."  Fair use is allowed under the Copyright Act, and as section 107 clearly states, fair use is not copyright infringement.

...the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright.

To summarize, the jury found Google infringed, but they were at an impasse as to whether or not Google’s use of the Java code was “fair use.” Sorry, that doesn’t work. Fair use is not infringement, by statute.  The jury found infringement; ipso facto, it’s not fair use.

The problem comes from the judge’s instructions to the jury, reproduced below:

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 __________

Perhaps this alternative instruction would have yielded a logical result:

  1. Did Google reproduce/use the copyrighted Java code without permission or license? (The judge asked the jury to assume it was copyrighted.) No? Count dismissed. Yes? Proceed to question 2.
  2. Did Google prove their use of the copyrighted Java code was limited to “fair use?” No? Find for the plaintiff. Yes? Count dismissed.
(Click here to see the Oracle v Google copyright issue alternative jury instructions presented as a flow chart.)

For more details on the jury findings, see here.