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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 Jeng (926980) on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @01:52PM (#39860201)

    M.A.D. strategies don't work too well when one side is perfectly fine with destruction.

  • by masternerdguy (2468142) on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @01:55PM (#39860231)
    Languages are the least of our worries. Projects like wine will become downright illegal.
  • And this is why... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @01:55PM (#39860233)

    copyrighting code at all is a slippery slope that leads to nothing but hair-splitting. Even if the judge throws that particular claim out, then what? It's legal to copy the top-level calls of someone's API, but illegal to make underlying code that too closely resembles the original? It seems like any line that gets drawn here is going to be stupid and arbitrary, of the form "you are legally allowed to copy/re-implement a certain percentage of a copyrighted work, but no more than that percentage!"

    Then you have a developer community whose primary incentive is to reinvent the wheel, not to develop new innovations on already-proven technology.

  • Bunch of BUNK! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Svartalf (2997) on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @01:56PM (#39860245) Homepage

    The Judge is wrong.

    Past jurisprudence (and a lot of it, mind...) has held that things that are purely functional are **NOT** Copyrightable.

    This includes:
    Build Scripts in general.
    Header Files.

    It's appealable and is VERY likely to be overturned on appeal.

  • We're all screwed (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cfulmer (3166) on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @01:58PM (#39860261) Homepage Journal

    What is an API? It's basically an agreement about the ordering and identification of arguments either in memory or in series of network messages. If the judge actually finds that the API itself is copyrightable, then any computer program that writes to a standard interface is completely screwed. Write your own SMTP client? Sorry, that interface is copyright. Your own web server? Ditto.

    APIs are the most functional part of computer programming -- they tell you 'this is how you communicate between parts A and B.' Yet, copyright is intended to only protect expression, not 'how' you do anything -- that's the realm of patent law. And while Oracle has patent claims mixed in here, Oracle isn't claiming a patent on the Java API.

  • by crazyjj (2598719) * on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @01:58PM (#39860263)

    I'm getting a distinct sense lately that we may be coming to the end of the era of innovation and the beginning of an era where it's essentially impossible to invent anything or innovate in any way unless you have a powerful corporate sponsor backing you. Unless you have a sponsor with a big patent collection of their own and deep pockets, how can the little guy possibly hope to defend himself against a bevy of lawsuits that cover even the most trivial or obvious of ideas these days?

    Oracle here isn't even saying that their code was stolen, they're suing a company for writing their own code that implements the same *SYNTAX* as theirs.

    Think of it as an age where the Wright brothers have just pulled their plane to a stop only to be greeted by an army of process servers serving them with dozens of expensive patent lawsuits on the shape of the prop, the design of the stick, even the IDEA of a "craft that flies."

  • by msobkow (48369) on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @01:58PM (#39860267) Homepage Journal

    This sounds an awful lot like the arguments that AT&T brought forth against Berkeley regarding the Unix System V vs. BSD arguments back in the early '80s.

    AT&T rightfully lost those arguments, and BSD moved forward.

    If Oracle succeeds with this, you can expect whoever holds the AT&T copyright nowadays to come after Linux and other Unix-like systems again, despite them just following what are now documented standards accepted by the industry.

    Oracle's arguments should be rejected for the same reasons as AT&T's.

    I was under the impression that Google had used the Java GPL source to compile their core jars. I later had it clarified that such is not the case; they used the Apache source.

    A decision in favour of Oracle would throw the entire computing industry overboard and cause no end of harm to the industry.

  • by MightyMartian (840721) on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @02:03PM (#39860353) Journal

    I think the issue is more that we should despise US copyright law.

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

    by Edsj (1972476) on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @02:06PM (#39860401)

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

    The rest of the world will continue its course while lawyers battle against each other in US.

    US is giving a nice warning for those who want to invest in their country: "What a nice product you have, it will be a shame if someone sue you for *insert patent/copyright* infringement".

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @02:06PM (#39860405)

    Whether APIs are protectable is a (not fully resolved) question of the law, and hence the judge's prerogative to decide. Most of us groklavians believe the judge is simply making sure there will be no retrial. If the jury says no copyright violation even under the assumption you can copyright APIs, then he doesn't have to make a decision about whether APIs may be protected by copyright. Surely whatever decision he makes will be appealed, so the jury might be able to make that portion of the case go away.

  • by scharkalvin (72228) on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @02:09PM (#39860433) Homepage

    Well Intel won't mess with AMD over this because THEY took the AMD-64 instruction set and added it to THEIR processors. So both companies have a bit of each other's copyright in their products.

  • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @02:10PM (#39860443) Journal
    Unless I missed something, Microsoft only publicly said that they would not sue Mono over patents. They didn't say IP, because they did not want to implicitly grant Mono the use of .NET-related trademarks. They did not license the copyright on any .NET things to the Mono project either because, prior to this, a clean-room reimplementation did not require a copyright license.
  • by walterbyrd (182728) on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @02:12PM (#39860473)

    If APIs are copyrightable, could other companies use that against Oracle?

  • by crazyjj (2598719) * on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @02:21PM (#39860603)

    Considering how effective the U.S. government has been at "persuading" countries around the world to implement carbon copies of its IP legislation (not to mention getting them to extradite their own citizens for U.S. IP violations), I wouldn't get too comfortable if I were you.

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

    by Daniel_Staal (609844) <DStaal@usa.net> on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @02:21PM (#39860615)

    Oh, for mod points.

    This. The judge basically said 'The question of whether copyright law can apply at all in this situation is a legal one, and needs to be handled by someone who has studied the law. That's me. Your job is to decide if the law was violated. So, assume the law exists, while I go research.' The judge can still come back and say the law doesn't apply at all, so it doesn't matter what the jury says, but in the meantime the jury doesn't have to be confused by arguments over whether the law applies.

  • by dubbreak (623656) on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @02:27PM (#39860671)

    Languages are the least of our worries. Projects like wine will become downright illegal in the US.

    FTFY. If this dangerous precedent is set it is set in the US I'm sure some of the weaker minded countries will follow suit, but many will recognize the idiocy of this.

    What if my public API has something like Save()? Did I violate the first person to copyright that interface name? Do I now need to name every function MyTrademarkNameSave()?

    Also if APIs are copyrightable I'm certain that much of the Java API was already falls under copyright to previous languages.

  • by Amouth (879122) on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @02:40PM (#39860829)

    which up to this day isn't copyrighted and doesn't need a licence so they more than likely don't have one to redistribute and create derivative works for SQL as why would you pay to licence something that doesn't need to be licensed? that's a waste of money.

    while this decision could cause a shit storm, it would be kinda nice to have Oracle get a taste of their own meds

  • by hoggoth (414195) on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @02:41PM (#39860861) Journal

    This is a Darwinian process. The US is making itself so utterly uncompetitive with no production no manufacturing no products just lawsuits. Any country with the strength to ignore our bullshit will be so much more productive than the US and its thralls that they will come to dominate us economically and eventually militarily.

    At this point it appears that China is the only country that isn't controlled by the same multinational corporations that govern the US, and has any chance of not becoming part of the same game.

  • by PaladinAlpha (645879) on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @03:13PM (#39861245)

    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.

    This is really, really scary for open source and GNU-like projects -- it's an attempt by a corporation to define copyright law in a way that lets big business completely shut down the academic "free exchange" culture once and for all.

    This is serious, guys.

  • by zullnero (833754) on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @03:20PM (#39861297) Homepage
    You're taking a fairly clear case, such as Google's use of Java APIs (which are being used by Google as if they were completely free and under public domain, even though a really big chunk of Oracle's business is in tight integration of Oracle database products with Java, which is technically their property as it was Sun's), and trying to extend it to cases that are really, really unclear. The owners of C suing C++? What are you talking about? Someone...maybe one of the various Unix variation's owners...who owns some of the algorithms behind the stdio apis suing Bjarne Stroustrop? Random companies? And wouldn't they get sued themselves for deriving from earlier works if that were true? That's highly unclear. Just like it is with a lot of those other technologies you rattled off, many that are at least partially IN the public domain and can be derived from as is their nature as object oriented languages.

    In a nutshell, I know how many of you are Android fanboys and I understand that there will be some who whine about Oracle suing Google over their misuse of their technology, but basically anyone even slightly familiar with Android's Java implementation knows that it's not quite "real" Java. And Microsoft got their pants sued off for doing basically the same thing (and people didn't complain so much about the end of programming as we knew it because it was Microsoft), so there is certainly a precedent for this lawsuit. Google just needs to remove all that Java from Android and replace it with their own framework. Other mobile operating systems have done that already. Everyone who knew anything knew this was going to happen, but Android got too big, too fast, and by doing so they would break a huge number of third party apps (as in, probably all of them) and anger a lot of vendors who've been selling systems with Android on them. That's the main reason why Google would settle this case and pay up if it keeps going. However, it's awful doubtful to me that the Netscape people will have a solid case to sue everyone who uses javascript, and that Bjarne Stroustroup will get sued for C++ by some Unix property holder. Any judge would throw that out because there's no clear cut case there with companies sitting on those properties that they are being negatively impacted by the "misuse" of one of their properties (and that's even if their patent holds up under review anymore).
  • by jonsmirl (114798) on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @03:32PM (#39861449) Homepage

    Why do you assume SQL isn't copyrighted? Our fine copyright law makes everything copyrighted unless you specifically release it. If this decision says APIs are copyrightable IBM will automatically have that copyright since they created SQL. The court will simply be acknowledging that IBM has always had a copyright on SQL even if IBM didn't know they had it. And thanks to the Mickey Mouse in Perpetuity Act (Bono Act) IBM will probably have that copyright for several hundred years. Just because they haven't been asking for licenses and fees doesn't mean they can't start with Oracle at the front of the line.

    Allowing APIs to be copyright will destroy the computing industry in the US. Can you imagine the damage of AT&T going after the C run-time library?

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

    by shiftless (410350) on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @03:55PM (#39861681) Homepage

    Exactly. This sort of thing doesn't happen in a vacuum; it has a real and tangible negative effect on the economy. These leeches have built up such a web of institutionalized parasitism dragging the whole economy down, which is exactly why we remain in this same mess today with everyone struggling just to get by. We the People need the chains unclasped from our ankles so that we can fulfill our potential.

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

    by gnasher719 (869701) on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @04:02PM (#39861769)

    Seems a bit non-sensical to me: "You, spend the next several weeks doing a bunch of work based on an assumption that I may invalidate, but only after you are done."

    Absolutely not. Considering how often Slashdot posters claim that judges are stupid, you show a distinct lack of logic.

    The judge decides matters of law. Whether an API is protected by copyright or not is a matter of law and will be decided by the judge. The jury decides matters of fact. Whether Google copied the API or not is a matter of fact, to be decided by the jury. Whether Google should be convicted is a combination of both. The judge just tells the jury not to waste their time thinking about matters of law, and not let their opinion about the law influence their decision.

    In C-style languages, what the judge is doing can be represented using the logical and operator. Nobody complains about that one.

  • by Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @04:49PM (#39862203)

    This is serious, guys.

    It's really not, for precisely the reasons you gave.

    If this case were to go in Oracle's favour and if it were then allowed to set a precedent, the US software industry would be seriously damaged by legal infighting for a years to come. Even if a few large businesses on the scale of Google and Oracle could survive, in the same way that they play the patent pooling game to neutralise that threat from other big business while still screwing small businesses, innovation would die almost overnight and the next big software businesses would all be based outside the US. As the rest of the world looked on, bemused by the litigious culture of US business finally imploding, the total US economy would take a noticeable hit, Silicon Valley would become a historical footnote as investors fled to tech hubs in other jurisdictions, etc.

    And so, if this were allowed to stand, it would suck for Google for about ten minutes, and then lobbyists backed by more money than has been printed in the history of humanity would descend on Washington and buy legislation to trump the court case and fix the problem.

  • by fusiongyro (55524) <faxfreemosquitoNO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @05:10PM (#39862353) Homepage

    That is absolutely the most harebrained scheme I've ever seen floated on Slashdot, possibly the entire internet, and I've been here a while. Think harder. How exactly are juries supposed to remain impartial if they're on the hook for their decisions? Their purpose is not to invent the law or implement it. It is simply to decide, fairly, whether some party has violated the law. Punishing them for the outcomes of their decisions amounts to punishing 12 randomly selected people for making the mistake of having a public address, or the mistake of living in the wrong country.

  • Re:More hyperbole (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Teancum (67324) <robert_horning@ n e tzero.net> on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @05:11PM (#39862365) Homepage Journal

    It was a legal case just like this which gave us the whole concept of software patents, so the concern is just as legitimate. Software patents were originally just as limited, and indeed the original judicial rulings on software patents were even more restricted than is being proposed here for API copyright.

    Heck, I would be much more in favor of having an API patented rather than copyrighted, as the concept of life + 70 year copyrights implies a much longer duration over "intellectual property claims" for this kind of activity. At least a patented API would eventually enter the public domain in my lifetime.

  • by Teancum (67324) <robert_horning@ n e tzero.net> on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @05:29PM (#39862477) Homepage Journal

    Steel is no longer made in America mainly because of aggressive "dumping" of steel from foreign sources, where steel was sold in America for a price cheaper than it could even be shipped. When steel makers basically had to give away their product in order to remain competitive, it was no wonder that they ended up just closing up shop instead. This was due to insane trade laws that basically threw American manufacturers under the bus on the goal for global "free trade" ideals.

    You could use almost any consumer product in the same category though. America at one point produced most of the televisions, nearly 100% of integrated circuits, and a huge number of consumer electronics in general. None of those are made in America any more, at least in any significant quantities that matter in global markets.

  • by CastIronStove (2602755) on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @06:27PM (#39863015)
    Brilliant plan. Will we be allowed to opt-out of jury duty in your wonderful system? If not, I see little point in even maintaining a justice system since the only safe verdict would be not guilty.
  • by mhotchin (791085) <{ten.nihctoh} {ta} {todhsals}> on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @06:44PM (#39863155)

    Don't be stupid. In all the reporting I've seen, the vast majority of 'guilty but really innocent' problems occur because either the defence is incompetent of the prosecution is behaving illegally. The jury decides on the evidence placed in front of them, not on some 'universal truth' that they don't have access to.

I am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of the demigodic party. -- Dennis Ritchie

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