Joking aside, there is nothing to be neutral about when pondering Oracle’s attempts to sue Google for copyright infringement on 37 Java APIs. It’s got the Open Source community up in arms, but Google may have shot itself in the foot, and the results could end up having a huge impact in the future.
Last Wednesday, a U.S. appeals court questioned Google in an appeal against Google’s claim that Oracle is not entitled to copyright protection over Java, or at least the parts related to some APIs Google cribbed for Android.
The case is making Silicon Valley programmers sweat a little because, ever since Oracle acquired Sun Microsystems in 2010, it has been gunning to leverage Java for its own nefarious purposes, if only to give it an option to sue the hell out of the competition it can’t beat legitimately with its outdated, over stuffed database technologies.
Originally, Oracle claimed that Google’s Android OS was using APIs that were the copyright property of Oracle. Of course, APIs are essentially copied and leveraged in a lot of ways in the Open Source and web development community to make it easier for applications to access and work with each other.
Google’s argument is that APIs cannot be copyrighted because, they are a way of organizing access to programming nodes, and kind of free flowing. Oracle is saying, No, APIs are proprietary technologies and cannot be adapted or mimicked or paraphrased, in the same way that you can’t take someone else’s novel and re-write it and call it your own.
Last year, in court in San Francisco, California, Oracle claimed that Google had infringed its rights on 37 Java APIs and wanted a billion dollars in damages. U.S. District Judge William Alsup agreed with Google in that case, saying that the Java APIs Google repurposed were freely usable.
Last week, Oracle got a hearing on its appeal of that ruling with Federal Circuit Judge Kathleen O’Malley. During oral arguments this week in the federal court of appeals, Oracle’s lawyer Josh Rosenkranz argued that Google “took the most important, the most appealing” parts of the Java language to create Android.
O’Malley has, apparently, said during last week’s hearing, the ability to access Java programming for free does not mean that it is not protected by copyright.
Ironically, Microsoft, EMC and Netapp are on Oracle’s side, even though they probably would love to see someone stick it to Oracle. These competitors issued a joint brief supporting Oracle’s position, stating that the original decision by Judge Alsum set a dangerous and ill-advised precedent.
Web companies, like Google, are like hippie invaders of the software industry, and the old guard, like Microsoft and Oracle, feel that the “threshold copyright protection for platforms like Java specifically and other elements of computer software generally have sweeping and harmful effects throughout the software industry.”
We are unlikely to see a real result for a while, and even then, whoever gets the nod from O’Malley, there is bound to be further appeal, with some legal experts thinking that this will end up in the Supreme Court. It’s like Pacific Rim, but there are no giant robots, just monsters fighting each other and laying to wasted to everything in their war path.
Check out the FOSS Patents blog by Florian Mueller. It has a completely logical, well thought out argument for why Google may have gotten itself into this mess, despite the protestations of Open Source luminaries like Linus Torvalds. Here’s a sample, read the rest here:
The Federal Circuit opinion will probably contain some harsh criticism of the shortcomings of Judge Alsup’s non-copyrightability ruling, but I encourage commentators not to go from one extreme to another. After last year’s trial, some people were impressed with his heavy-handed case management and a number of vocal activists (a minority, but as I said, vocal) were overjoyous because of what he determined. There was an echo chamber, and what some people said and wrote about Judge Alsup was almost an apotheosis — which the judge himself presumably never even wanted. I disagreed with him, but respectfully. That’s why no matter what the Federal Circuit opinion will say, I will continue to respect him a great deal. This was a difficult matter, and Google misled him, manipulated him, confused him, and used him for its purposes. Same with the jury, by the way. Except for its foreman.
So, maybe when I put my natural hatred of Oracle to the side, I can feel comfortable knowing that Google is screwing up on this one and is still not quite getting the “do no evil” thing it once touted.