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A Guide to Understanding the Oracle v. Google Legal Battle

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Google prevailed in a yearslong legal bout with Oracle on Thursday over the code that powers the search giant’s Android mobile operating system. Oracle, helmed by famous billionaire Larry Ellison, sued Google in 2010, alleging that Google’s implementation of the programming language Java violated copyright law. Now a U.S. District Court jury in San Francisco has ruled that Google’s application of Java APIs (sets of protocols that allow different programs to communicate) actually constitutes fair use, meaning Google transformed the code in some meaningful way when the company brought it to Android.

So yeah, pretty complicated and seemingly boring stuff.

But! This case actually has big implications for the ways we all use the internet. If Oracle had prevailed (and a mustache-twirling Ellison may yet win out in appellate court), the case might have galvanized other companies to sue developers who use their proprietary APIs. And most of those developers would have way fewer lawyers to fend off a lawsuit than Google. Such a ruling could potentially limit the free flow of information online. (Here’s a throwback of an example: Copyrighted APIs could have made it impossible for AIM users to chat with people on other messaging platforms if AOL would have taken legal action.)

It’s a lot for anyone to wrap their head around (those poor jurors!). But it’s actually pretty important, so here’s our definitive guide to supplementary reading so you, too, can understand this whole mess.

If you need more backstory: The Electronic Frontier Foundation has an easy-to-follow summary and general timeline of events, as well as court filings from the actors involved.

If you want an inside view of the courtroom: Vice contributing editor Sarah Jeong live-tweeted the court proceedings over the past two weeks, offering smart, in-the-moment analysis. Her commentary is now gathered on Storify.

If you want to know why it matters: Wired has a good explanation of how an Oracle victory would hurt the open-source development community.

If you want to know what Java actually is: Read this Business Insider feature on the history of the technology, how Oracle came to control it, and why it’s a fundamental part of Google’s Android.

If you still don’t get what an API is: You can read Vice’s 1,300-word breakdown or just trust Google’s courtroom explanation that it’s basically like a filing cabinet.

If you want to know more about Larry Ellison: Here are 30 surprising facts (including that he hired a “tree lawyer” to get rid of his neighbors’ redwoods).

This piece originally appeared in the May 27, 2016, edition of the Ringer newsletter.