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Government Java Oracle The Courts United States

US Justice Department Urges Supreme Court Not To Take Up Google v. Oracle 223

New submitter Areyoukiddingme writes: The Solicitor General of the Justice Department has filed a response to the US Supreme Court's solicitation of advice regarding the Google vs. Oracle ruling and subsequent overturning by the Federal Circuit. The response recommends that the Federal Circuit ruling stand, allowing Oracle to retain copyright to the Java API.
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US Justice Department Urges Supreme Court Not To Take Up Google v. Oracle

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  • by ardentsoap ( 4129921 ) on Thursday May 28, 2015 @08:07AM (#49789977)
    So, I can't make an API that mimics theirs because copyright?
    • by kennykb ( 547805 ) on Thursday May 28, 2015 @08:18AM (#49790097)

      Yes. Exactly.

      It's all about the term of copyright versus the term of patent. Patent lasts only twenty years at present, while copyright is effectively perpetual (whenever Pooh and Mickey might enter the public domain, the legislators fix it). If copyright governs interfaces, that part of the law will keep the government from stealing IP away from its rightful owners after twenty years.

      • by XanC ( 644172 ) on Thursday May 28, 2015 @08:36AM (#49790229)

        Can they make Compaq's reverse engineering of IBM's BIOS illegal retroactively, and take back much of the PC revolution?

        • by jandrese ( 485 ) <kensama@vt.edu> on Thursday May 28, 2015 @08:43AM (#49790279) Homepage Journal
          If the laws we have now were in place back then the computer revolution wouldn't have happened. We would still be paying $5000 for IBM Mainframe access terminals.

          Or in a slightly less Dystopian view, computers today would look like iPhones, with one vendor having a stranglehold on the platform and completely anemic third party hardware support outside of cosmetics.
          • by sycodon ( 149926 ) on Thursday May 28, 2015 @08:51AM (#49790355)

            Oracle must have contributed to the right Administration official.

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              To be fair, if it was (R) it would have happened too. And when people say that the (D) and (R) are really different, you can point them to this case to show that ... no not really.

            • Oracle must have contributed to the right Administration official.

              No.

              The United States Solicitor General's Office writes a *LOT* of these "op" briefs. Generally ten pages saying "This case isn't so magically important that SCOTUS should look at it among the thousands of cases people are asking to look at." Taking that position on a case is the default position and nothing should be read into it.

              They are for the most part really top-tier professionals who are trying to make the decision based on what is best for the US Government as an institution. Not influenced very

          • by Holi ( 250190 )
            So Apple only then?
          • by s.petry ( 762400 ) on Thursday May 28, 2015 @09:25AM (#49790641)

            The Laws we have in place are the same as we had back then. The main difference today is that people holding public offices tend to flaunt their pay-for-play status, where back in the 80s/90s they were still attempting to hide it. The biggest harm to IT took a while to get precedents set, but really started almost immediately with "ideas" being patented and copyrighted (you can thank the first Bush for that lovely patent reform).

            As an example, Athena (X) was developed mostly by DARPA funding and grant money. Yet we had to see 32 screens worth of copyrights just to start the Xserver (okay, 32 is an exaggeration but the point remains). Some of these were to Universities like MIT, Berkley, and Stanford. Many others though were to Novell, Sun Microsystems, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, etc.. etc... And no, these were not "credits", but copyrights. This is why Linux started with a pretty old version of X and basically had to reinvent the wheel. Linux had 1 crappy pay-for version of CDE because some schlep company ended up buying copyrights to extort money from people.

            • The Laws we have in place are the same as we had back then.

              The DMCA most definitely wasn't in place back then.

            • Linux had 1 crappy pay-for version of CDE because some schlep company ended up buying copyrights to extort money from people.

              I don't even remember there being a pay-for version of CDE for Linux. I'm not saying it didn't happen. I just remember you could buy a Motif tarball from Metrolink that would get you Motif and mwm, not like you would ever use mwm when you had fvwm. And then later you could buy Caldera Network Desktop, which came with Metrolink Motif. You could also buy AccelX, which got you a substantially faster X server back in those days, with meaningful support for your video card's 2d acceleration features... something

      • by The Rizz ( 1319 ) on Thursday May 28, 2015 @08:39AM (#49790249)

        If copyright governs interfaces, that part of the law will keep the government from stealing IP away from its rightful owners after twenty years.

        You mean stop government from returning it to the rightful owners. The public (and public domain) are the rightful owners of all information and works - copyright/patents just give exclusive use for a time.

      • by Maxwell ( 13985 )
        No. Not at all. Read the $#%^ briefing, please. Google did a copy/paste of the Java source code into their own source code. The code that creates the API's is copyrighted. The API's themselves are not.
        • by NostalgiaForInfinity ( 4001831 ) on Thursday May 28, 2015 @09:55AM (#49790899)

          Google did a copy/paste of the Java source code into their own source code.

          Google probably does copy/paste of the Java source code all the time, like lots of other people, because it's open source, so that is a meaningless accusation.

          Google distributed interface definitions that look very similar to Oracle's. That's probably because in Java, there really aren't a lot of different ways of describing the same interface. Furthermore, interfaces should not usually be considered copyrightable.

          Google also distributed some copyrighted Java source files. That was stupid, but those files appear to have been test cases, not code that ships on handsets, and it appears to have been unintentional. It's hard to argue that Oracle suffered any harm from that and Google came into compliance.

      • "If copyright governs interfaces, that part of the law will keep the government from stealing IP away from its rightful owners after twenty years."

        That's a pretty insane statement. Copyright doesn't grant ownership and there are no rightful owners. Copyright is government imposed limitations on the natural rights of everyone else. If you write a book, you own THAT book and that particular copy of it's contents nothing more or less. I have the right to copy any software, api, song, movie, etc limited only by
    • Doesn't the Linux kernel group hold a very similar stance in that you cannot use the kernels internal APIs without breaching copyright and thus falling under the GPL as a derivative work?

      • by Immerman ( 2627577 ) on Thursday May 28, 2015 @09:22AM (#49790611)

        I believe it's not that you can't use the API, but that you can't interface non-GPL code with the kernel due to the restrictions of the GPL. That you would use the API to do so is incidental to that restriction.

        If instead you want to build your own kernel implementing the same API, I don't believe they have any objection.

        • The only sway the GPL has here is due to copyright law, so if the GPL is in force in my example then that means the API is considered to be copyrighted...

          No copyright issues means no GPL restrictions.

          • by Immerman ( 2627577 ) on Thursday May 28, 2015 @10:06AM (#49790997)

            No, it does not. Re-read my post after you've had your morning coffee. You're free to use the API however you want, it's presumed not copyrightable. The *one* exception is using it for interacting with the Linux kernel, because the kernel *is* protected from such access by the GPL, and only GPL-compatible code is allowed to interact with its internals. The API is irrelevant to that fact - it's simply the interface used by those who *are* allowed to interact.

      • by s.petry ( 762400 )
        Complete rubbish, go educate yourself.
      • Doesn't the Linux kernel group hold a very similar stance in that you cannot use the kernels internal APIs without breaching copyright and thus falling under the GPL as a derivative work?

        Not really [tldp.org]. TL;DR: Linus doesn't say so, and he holds the trademark, so he gets to decide what makes "Linux(tm)".

      • by flink ( 18449 )

        Doesn't the Linux kernel group hold a very similar stance in that you cannot use the kernels internal APIs without breaching copyright and thus falling under the GPL as a derivative work?

        Using the API doesn't invoke the GPL -- it's actually the linking process. When you link against the kernel, your binary becomes a derivative work partially based on the kernel. Since the kernel is covered by the GPL, creating any derivative work from it requires you abide by the terms of the GPL. I doubt any FSF lawyer would have anything negative to say about cloning a project's public API in order to create a completely new implementation under a different license.

        Another example: If I created a GPL

      • by suutar ( 1860506 )

        Internal APIs are part of the kernel implementation; that's why they change so often. If you're using one, you're implementing a kernel piece, and therefore creating a derived work.

        The external API that is for use by non-kernel software has no such restriction. You can write any code you want that makes calls to the Linux kernel. You may not be able to _ship_ the linux kernel along with your code, if your code isn't GPL, but that's a restriction on what you can do with linux code, not with your own.

      • You can use Linux APIs all you want, no problem.

        You can't link certain code directly into the Linux kernel, because at that point you're creating a derivative work that has to be licensed under the GPLv2, and if the license of the code you added isn't compatible with GPLv2 you cannot satisfy both licenses simultaneously.

    • by paskie ( 539112 )

      Right now they are talking about if the API is actually copyrighted. If it is, there is still a (good?) chance that fair use will allow you to reimplement it anyway; but that's going to be another court case, likely.

    • by emil ( 695 )

      If this is so, then Nokia can now assert copyright over fork().

      Nokia now owns Bell Labs through a long chain of acquisitions. Bell Labs publicly asserted copyright over fork() in the Lions Commentary.

      Nokia should now assert infringement over Solaris and the UEK. A sizable portion of Exadata revenues are fairly owed should this decision stand.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 28, 2015 @08:07AM (#49789981)

    If this stands, Java's vaunted claim to being on "billions of devices" will soon become the punchline to a bad joke.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by ardentsoap ( 4129921 )
      It's almost like Oracle is trying to kill Java. Wouldn't it have been easier to let Sun implode and fade away?
      • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 28, 2015 @08:18AM (#49790095)

        Yes, but that would take a couple billion years.

      • Re:Java is done (Score:4, Interesting)

        by dAzED1 ( 33635 ) on Thursday May 28, 2015 @08:28AM (#49790169) Journal
        Sun was flush with cash at the time of the acquisition, and also had a great deal of solid IP and customer faith. Solaris prior to Oracle was *the* most solid OS available in my opinion, and sparcs were always great for their target audience. Sun's only problem is the market became too commodity - fabbers need to make billions of chips now to stay competitive, and that just wasn't possible. But Sun had paths forward to fix these things - they were actually on the right road already, imo - forming ties with AMD, coming up with a way to keep their core but become commodity, by giving AMD access to high tech they needed. A road that Oracle took them off - Sun would be just fine today if Oracle hadn't bought them.
        • by s.petry ( 762400 )
          Who the hell rated this a troll? "flush with cash" is a stretch, but that does not make it a troll.
        • Sun would be just fine today if Oracle hadn't bought them.

          Sorry, I'm going to have to disagree. Sun was a hardware company that also sold an operating system. From the late 90's on Sun began losing marketshare to Linux on commodity hardware. Sun tried to respond by moving to x86 and publishing a companion CD/DVD of (old versions) of popular open-source software with limited success. It's a fact that Solaris was pretty much useless without also installing a bunch of GNU software as Sun shipped obsolete/buggy versions of quite a few programs. People who had ex

        • It's hard to believe that Sun would have been fine today, if Oracle hasn't bought them. We kept hearing the same story every year since 2000, and yet Sun's stock never recovered after the dotcom bubble burst. Indeed, the market has become very commodidized with Lintel and Wintel getting better and better at every iteration. Sun's corporate culture that aimed to protect Solaris and Sparc made the company take a wrong turn in the late 90s and early 2000s, by completely missing a chance to embrace Linux, x86,

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 28, 2015 @08:09AM (#49789991)

    Like libc, or whatever, or change licenses to an "Oracle Exclusion License" so stupid things like "Copyrighting APIs" get dropped and common sense rules again.

    • by PRMan ( 959735 )
      Yes. All new open source licenses should specifically exclude Oracle. But be available to everyone else.
    • The Open Group claims the copyright on the POSIX specifications. If APIs can be copyrighted and this copyright includes all implementations, then it would be problematic for all open source *NIX systems. Of course, they might decide to provide a license that's valid for everyone except Oracle (though writing such a license in a way that's GPL compatible would be very hard, so glibc might be in trouble).
      • The Open Group claims the copyright on the POSIX specifications. If APIs can be copyrighted and this copyright includes all implementations, then it would be problematic for all open source *NIX systems.

        Only if The Open Group were acquired by a company with malevolent intentions. A company such as, oh say, Oracle.

        Of course, they might decide to provide a license that's valid for everyone except Oracle (though writing such a license in a way that's GPL compatible would be very hard, so glibc might be in trouble).

        How is glibc in trouble? Oracle doesn't have the copyright for it.

  • by jfdavis668 ( 1414919 ) on Thursday May 28, 2015 @08:09AM (#49789999)
    If Oracle open sourced Java, how can they be suing anyone?
    • by JBMcB ( 73720 )

      By open sourcing something you don't necessarily give up your copyright claim. You're giving everyone a license to use and modify your code under certain conditions, and those conditions can be whatever you want based on your license (GPL/Apache/BSD/Whatever)

      If you put the code in the public domain, you give up all claims to copyright.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 28, 2015 @08:15AM (#49790061)
      Google didn't use the open source version (OpenJDK is GPL). They reimplemented it with a more permissive license (Apache2). Oracle is saying they are not allowed to do that.
      • Google didn't modify the source code. They didn't even use the source code. Why would they have to follow the GPL?
      • Didn't Google take parts Apache Harmony as base?

    • By paying their lawyers.
    • Because open sourcing has nothing to do with giving up copyright. Sun didn't give up their copyright when GPLing it and Orcale now holds it.

      • by Hardhead_7 ( 987030 ) on Thursday May 28, 2015 @09:00AM (#49790413)
        This is why when Microsoft open sourced the new .NET framework recently, they also included a "Covenant not the Sue" document saying you were free to re-implement the .NET API with your own code. Basically, promising not to pull an Oracle. The upshot is .NET is now more free-as-in-freedom than Java. It's enough to make your head explode.
        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          The idea that Java was ever free was rooted in Sun's original promises about making Java an open standard. But Sun dragged that process out for years and eventually just reneged on it, all the while filing patents and making sure that they owned the platform completely. Sun probably did that because they had learned that open and free platforms like Linux and X11 were eating their lunch.

          Because a lot of FOSS developers had counted on Sun's promises, by the time it was clear that Java was going to remain pro

  • Mini Sample (Score:5, Insightful)

    by koan ( 80826 ) on Thursday May 28, 2015 @08:24AM (#49790139)

    Of what the TPP is going to do.

    • by Yomers ( 863527 )
      TPP - The Pirate Party? Are they going to urge US Supreme Court, too? I'm confused.
    • Of what the TPP is going to do.

      Or perhaps the TPP people don't want the SCOTUS ruling on this, because it could provide a constitutional basis for challenging the TPP.

      Nah, nevermind. That couldn't be the motivation of The Most Transparent Administration in History.

  • by BenJeremy ( 181303 ) on Thursday May 28, 2015 @08:31AM (#49790187)

    WTF do they have to do with this case? This isn't a criminal proceeding, it's a civil matter.

    This isn't about "protecting" Oracle (though there may be some $$$ influence involved), but rather more about protecting the copyright racket, strengthening it beyond the accepted scope.

    APIs should not ever be copyrighted. Once you start doing that, it's only a matter of time before Disney copyrights all cartoon renderings of a mouse, or Nickelback gets to copyright all formulaic/generic rock.

    Unfortunately... the Justice Department, likely at the behest of the White House, is intervening to influence copyright law and give corporations even more power. Ugh. It's like our government is pushing to see how far it can go to enslave citizens (the real, human kind, not the corporate nonsense kind) before they decide they've had enough of this shit.

    I'd be inclined to chalk this up as a "First World Problem" but clamping down on technology denies everybody equal access. This is a serious infringement of our freedoms that will have a chilling effect on the progress of technology to help people in their daily lives everywhere in the world. It's not just about Java - it's about any programming language interface.

    • WTF do they have to do with this case? This isn't a criminal proceeding, it's a civil matter.

      The Supreme Court asked the government to comment, and so they did.

    • WTF do they have to do with this case? This isn't a criminal proceeding, it's a civil matter.

      You have already answered your own question:

      Unfortunately... the Justice Department, likely at the behest of the White House, is intervening to influence copyright law and give corporations even more power.

      The US government has more or less become the enforcement arm for the copyright lobby.

      Which means they are now advancing copyright/corporate interests.

      People who understand APIs understand it's a published contrac

    • WTF do they have to do with this case? This isn't a criminal proceeding, it's a civil matter.

      I've absolutely given up on trying to figure out how our government works. Apparently SCOTUS specifically asked them for their opinion. And here I thought our founders wanted separation of powers, and in particular that the Supreme friggin' Court was intended to be insulated from the ebb and flow of political interests in the other two branches.

      I could understand if the Justice Dept decided to file an amicus brief just like everyone else, but I can't understand why SCOTUS specifically sought their opinion.

  • by paskie ( 539112 ) <pasky@@@ucw...cz> on Thursday May 28, 2015 @08:37AM (#49790233) Homepage

    TL;DR: US executive shares the appeals court opinion that APIs are copyrightable, but that does not mean the copyright is enforceable - there will be another court case that will be about if it's fair use to re-implement the (copyrighted) API.

    Here is maybe the most important paragraph (italics mine):

    Despite the inherently functional character of all computer code, the Copyright Act makes clear that such code can be copyrightable. Nothing about the declaring code (API declarations) at issue here materially distinguishes it from other computer code ... . Although petitioner has raised important concerns about the effects that enforcing respondent's copyright could have on software development, those concerns are better addressed through petitioner's fair-use defense, which will be considered on remand.

    The brief is quite well readable (modulo the awful scribus ui), try it!

    • Java API: Copyrighted, but hope for fair use!

      HOPE for CHANGE. Where have I heard this before?

    • by bouldin ( 828821 )

      Probably the "bright line" copyright distinction between APIs and actual works of art should come from the legislature, but our Congress is just as technologically illiterate as the judicial and executive branches.

      Maybe in another 20 years we can have laws that actually bring us in to the 21st century.

      • by suutar ( 1860506 )

        I think you give Congress too much credit. The executive branch, at least, has folks who have to actually work with technology.

    • I see at least one other person read TFA. Thank you for your accurate TL;DR:
  • Once they declare the API to be copyrightable, the SCO dementors will arise and attempt once more to cast darkness over Linux. Darl McBride must be snickering as he reads the Justice Department's response...

    • Too bad Groklaw is no longer active. Ignorance is NOT bliss.

      If you go back and read the extensive coverage of the original trial, you would discover that you are arguing for the opposite of what the original court decided.

      The decision was that the API _interface_ itself is not copyrightable, but the implementation behind that interface was. That is what open source (and any sane closed source) software project requires. The judge took the time to learn how to program Java as part of his research, a

  • Just asking, because it seems to me as if someone wants this matter to be declared settled as is and for no good reason other than to guarantee a payout.

  • by Proudrooster ( 580120 ) on Thursday May 28, 2015 @08:58AM (#49790401) Homepage

    DOJ: We recommend you don't take this important copyright case.
    SCOTUS: Oh really, why is that?
    DOJ: Corporate interest mostly, we are looking to create a new form of monopoly power, and Larry Ellison has some really cool Sailboats.
    SCOTUS: Thanks for your recommendation, we are looking forward to hearing this case and just added it to the docket.

  • Looks like Obama's primary legacy may be to enshrine API copyrights in law. If this had been the law of the land in the 80's and 90's, Linux and FOSS would never have gotten off the ground.

    • If this had been the law of the land in the 80's and 90's, Linux and FOSS would never have gotten off the ground.

      If this had been the law of the land in the 90's, the BSD case would have gone very differently. So no Linux and no BSD.

  • You're honor, you probably don't want to read the case. "Why not. It's a matter of public record". Yes, but the index is copyrighted. It's $5000/copy. Good luck finding the case without the index. "$5000 per copy? That's preposterous. Indexing is trivial compared to the arguments in the case". Why yes, yes it is...

1: No code table for op: ++post

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