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Oracle Google Programming The Courts Your Rights Online

Oracle and the End of Programming As We Know It 577

Posted by Soulskill
from the unbounded-can-of-worms dept.
An anonymous reader writes "An article at Dr. Dobb's looks into the consequences of a dangerous idea from Oracle during their legal battle with Google: 'that Google had violated Oracle's Java copyrights by reimplementing Java APIs in Android.' The issue is very much unsettled in the courts, but the judge in this case instructed the jury to assume the APIs were copyrightable. 'In a nutshell, if the jury sides with Oracle that the copyrights in the headers of every file of the Java source base apply specifically to the syntax of the APIs, then Oracle can extract payment and penalties from Google for having implemented those APIs without Oracle's blessing (or, in more specific terms, without a license). Should this come to pass, numerous products will suddenly find themselves on an uncertain legal standing in which the previously benign but now newly empowered copyright holders might assert punitive copyright claims. Chief among these would be any re-implementation of an existing language. So, Jython, IronPython, and PyPy for Python; JRuby, IronRuby, and Rubinius for Ruby; Mono for C# and VB; possibly C++ for C, GCC for C and C++ and Objective-C; and so forth. And of course, all the various browsers that use JavaScript might owe royalties to the acquirers of Netscape's intellectual property.'"
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Oracle and the End of Programming As We Know It

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @02:50PM (#39860193)

    We realize that we can all use Perl free of charge.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @03:01PM (#39860317)

    AMD has a license from Intel to implement the x86 ISA. They didn't when they started, but Intel let them buy a license to try to avoid anti-trust litigation.

  • Re:Bunch of BUNK! (Score:5, Informative)

    by OddJobBob (1965628) on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @03:03PM (#39860345)

    It has already been through the courts when Green Hills copied the Threadx API from Express Logic, Green Hills won.

  • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @03:04PM (#39860373) Journal

    Not just WINE. The Open Group, for example, would be able to charge royalties for any UNIX-like system implementing the APIs described in POSIX and the Single UNIX Specification. AT&T might still own copyrights on the original UNIX and C library APIs (since they were not thought to be copyrightable, they would probably not have been transferred, but if they were then Novell may own them), so everyone who implements basic C stuff like printf() would be liable.

    It actually gets worse than even that. If an API is copyrightable, then all of the law related to derived works also applies. That means that whoever copyrighted the first interface for an ordered collection can count any subsequent API that appears to be inspired by it as a derived work. Do you use subscripting for array indexing? Do you have an API for storing a key-value pair in an keyed collection? You probably owe someone money...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @03:09PM (#39860429)

    The judge told the jury to assume that APIs were copyrightable for purposes of their deliberation, for one reason, and one reason only.

    The judge determined that whether APIs are copyrightable or not is a question of *law* not *fact*, and therefore was an issue properly decided by the judge. If the judge deliberates and determines that APIs are *not* copyrightable, then it doesn't matter what decision the jury makes. If he decides they *are*, then the jury's verdict will actually come into play.

    Either (or both) decisions on the matter are open to appeal if Google (or Sun) disagrees with the decision(s) in question.

  • Re:Bunch of BUNK! (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @03:11PM (#39860457)

    The judge told the jury to ASSUME that it is copyrightable and that the actual choice of copyrightability was his decision to make. This makes it so that appeals court will have an easier time based off his decision by not having to bring the jury back. He has not made that decision yet.

  • Re:Bunch of BUNK! (Score:5, Informative)

    by MBCook (132727) <foobarsoft@foobarsoft.com> on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @03:13PM (#39860483) Homepage

    No, the judge is right.

    There was a post on GrokLaw about the terrible reporting about this. The Jury was told to assume that they can be copyrighted and render a decision.

    IF the jury says Google violated that hypothetical copyright, THEN the judge will rule on if that stuff can be copyrighted. If the jury says the hypothetical copyright wasn't violated, then the judge won't need to rule on it.

  • by pavon (30274) on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @03:13PM (#39860491)

    The summary is wrong. The judge has not said that APIs are eligible for copyright; his ruling on that will come later. He merely asked the jury to determine whether Google copied the Java APIs, regardless of whether it was legal or not.

    This makes sense from a procedural point of view. In the court system, juries determine matters of fact and judges determine matters of law. The judge knows that this case will be appealed regardless of how he rules, so he is playing it safe and making sure that the jury determines any matters of fact that may come to play during the appeals process to avoid a second jury trial later.

  • by Jeng (926980) on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @03:18PM (#39860557)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amd [wikipedia.org]

    In February 1982, AMD signed a contract with Intel, becoming a licensed second-source manufacturer of 8086 and 8088 processors. IBM wanted to use the Intel 8088 in its IBM PC, but IBM's policy at the time was to require at least two sources for its chips. AMD later produced the Am286 under the same arrangement, but Intel canceled the agreement in 1986 and refused to convey technical details of the i386 part. AMD challenged Intel's decision to cancel the agreement and won in arbitration, but Intel disputed this decision. A long legal dispute followed, ending in 1994 when the Supreme Court of California sided with AMD. Subsequent legal disputes centered on whether AMD had legal rights to use derivatives of Intel's microcode. In the face of uncertainty, AMD was forced to develop clean room designed versions of Intel code.

    In 1991, AMD released the Am386, its clone of the Intel 386 processor. It took less than a year for the company to sell a million units. Later, the Am486 was used by a number of large original equipment manufacturers, including Compaq, and proved popular. Another Am486-based product, the Am5x86, continued AMD's success as a low-price alternative. However, as product cycles shortened in the PC industry, the process of reverse engineering Intel's products became an ever less viable strategy for AMD.

  • Re:And with that (Score:5, Informative)

    by whoever57 (658626) on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @03:24PM (#39860647) Journal

    And with that, the internet fell, and mankind returned to the stone age.

    Except that it did not, at least not yet.

    The article's author fails to understand what is going on here. The judge has said that he will decide if API's are copyrightable, but he has punted the decision. Only if the jury finds that there was copyright infringement relating to the APIs will the judge actually decide that issue.

    Since the judge has not made the decision about APIs and that it is his decision, not the jury's, the only sensible approach is to have the jury assume that API's are copyrightable.

  • by zill (1690130) on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @03:33PM (#39860743)
    Pretty sure parent was referring to Nixon [wikipedia.org].
  • by Guy Harris (3803) <guy@alum.mit.edu> on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @03:38PM (#39860813)

    Not att. Attachmate. They got it with Novell. And who owns Attachmate?

    The Attachmate Group [attachmategroup.com], the principal investors in which are [attachmategroup.com] the private equity groups Francisco Partners [franciscopartners.com], Golden Gate Capital [goldengatecap.com], Elliott Management [elliottmgmt.com], and Thoma Bravo [thomabravo.com].

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @03:44PM (#39860891)

    Not just WINE. The Open Group, for example, would be able to charge royalties for any UNIX-like system implementing the APIs described in POSIX and the Single UNIX Specification. AT&T might still own copyrights on the original UNIX and C library APIs (since they were not thought to be copyrightable, they would probably not have been transferred, but if they were then Novell may own them), so everyone who implements basic C stuff like printf() would be liable.

    This is what the SCO lawsuit was about. It's basically over (except that every time someone announces an end, there is another re-file of some sort)... but even groklaw [groklaw.net] has moved on to Oracle v. Google.

    Also, Caldera (which I think was a previous incarnation of SCO) released versions of Unix developed by AT&T prior to System III and System V as open source. [groklaw.net]

    It actually gets worse than even that. If an API is copyrightable, then all of the law related to derived works also applies. That means that whoever copyrighted the first interface for an ordered collection can count any subsequent API that appears to be inspired by it as a derived work. Do you use subscripting for array indexing? Do you have an API for storing a key-value pair in an keyed collection? You probably owe someone money...

    No. Patents, not copyrights, can be used to claim ownership of ideas. Copyrights are used to claim ownership of specific, concrete realization of ideas, covering the "look and feel" and surface aspects rather than essential mechanisms.

  • Nope (Score:5, Informative)

    by gr8_phk (621180) on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @04:00PM (#39861073)

    Copyrights are used to claim ownership of specific, concrete realization of ideas, covering the "look and feel" and surface aspects rather than essential mechanisms.

    Look and feel of an application is not copyrightable. Microsoft fought apple over this a long time ago and won. Apple had claimed Windows infringed the look and feel of Mac OS. That precedent is one really good thing MS has done for the world.

  • Re:And with that (Score:2, Informative)

    by sqldr (838964) on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @04:02PM (#39861115)

    I was recently headhunted by a very exciting and well paying company right on San Francisco bay. Tempting. Having just learnt this, I think I'll stay in Europe. Sorry America, you can't have my skills. Your legal system doesn't want them.

  • by gr8_phk (621180) on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @04:05PM (#39861147)
    AMD was given a license because IBM wanted a second source for processors in the PC. Later extensions (386 I think) got argued about, but AMD had a license from the start IIRC.
  • Re:Bunch of BUNK! (Score:5, Informative)

    by Col. Klink (retired) (11632) on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @04:08PM (#39861185)

    First, if the jury finds that google did NOT violate the hypothetical API copyright, Oracle's case ends there. You can't appeal the finding of the jury, so that matter could be settled immediately and completely and saving the appeal court's resources.

    If, instead, the judge immediately declares that the API is not copyrightable, that decision can (and will) be appealed. If he is later overturned (no matter how unlikely), that would then require a NEW jury trial to then decide if google actually violated the copyright. Since the jury has already heard the evidence and has other things to decide, why not let them make that decision right now.

    So yes, this seriously saves resources and this judge really seems to understand things.

  • Re:Nope (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @04:42PM (#39861551)

    This is incorrect. MSFT lost, and paid a license fee for Windows 1.0 to Apple. When MSFT tried again with Windows 2.0, Apple sued again but the court ruled that the previous license covered the similarities, so MSFT won that round.

  • More hyperbole (Score:5, Informative)

    by DragonWriter (970822) on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @05:21PM (#39861979)

    That's actually one of Google's defenses. They didn't copy the entire Java API, just a portion of it. So no, if the ruling is in Oracle's favor (which is unlikely but not impossible), then you can't get away with fair-use.

    There are three different questions that have to be resolved in Oracle's favor for a verdict in Oracle's favor on this point:
    1. (legal) Are the APIs subject to copyright protection,
    2. (factual) Did Google infringe the exclusive rights of Oracle as copyright holder of the APIs,
    3. (factual) Was Google's infringement outside the scope of the exception carved out of the exclusive rights under fair use.

    Each logically only requires a response if the preceding question is answered in the affirmative. #2 is presented to the jury as a question they must answer as if #1 were answered in the affirmative, though the court has not ruled on it; #3 is presented to the jury as a question they must answer if and only if they answer yes to #2.

    A ruling in Oracle's favor on the legal issue (#1) would not obviously not mean fair use was not available as a defense. Nor, obviously, would a finding of fact in Oracle's favor on #2.

    But even a verdict in Oracle's favor (meaning that all three issues were resolved in Oracle's favor) wouldn't mean that fair use wasn't available, it would just mean that the jury in this particular case didn't find Google's particular use of Oracle's copyright-protected APIs was fair use. Fact findings are not, however, precedential or binding on future triers of fact, only legal rulings are. (And the only legal ruling related to the availability of fair use in this case is that, at a minimum, it is an available defense, because if it wasn't, question #3 wouldn't be put to the jury at all, or would be put to the jury with the same restrictions as #2 in that it was waiting on a legal ruling on the applicability of the defense.)

  • Re:And with that (Score:5, Informative)

    by chrylis (262281) on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @05:21PM (#39861989)

    Don't read too much into the bad summary. The judge told the jury to determine whether Google infringed Oracle's copyright assuming the API can be copyrighted. If they find that Google did, then the judge will rule whether the API can in fact be copyrighted, but if they say that Google didn't infringe in either case, he doesn't have to make a ruling on the question (and, particularly, he avoids the scenario where he rules API's aren't copyrightable, an appeals court reverses him, and they have to redo the trial because the jury has been dismissed).

  • by Attila Dimedici (1036002) on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @06:10PM (#39862361)
    The problem with that is that the Muslim Arabs learned the "Arabic number" system from Indian Hindus.
  • by zidium (2550286) on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @07:01PM (#39862765) Homepage

    Not in the world of the World Trade Organization!!

    By international treaty and law, all copyrights are honored worldwide. Therefore, what is copyrighted in the U.S. is also copyrighted in Europe immediately, and vice versa (and Asia, too, technically all the GATT countries, which is pretty much everybody worth conducting business with).

    So, unless you want to undo almost a century of globalization, this will affect legal software worldwide, unless and until copyright laws can be amended to more sane terms.

    Regardless, this has "rush to the Supreme Court" smeared all over it.

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