Judge crushes Oracle's API copyright claims like a bug

Judge crushes Oracle's API copyright claims like a bug

Summary: Oracle's last chance for a big day with its Google lawsuit, at this U.S. District Court at least, has come to an end.

TOPICS: Google

The Judge has ruled and Oracle is left with next to nothing from its legal attacks on Google's Android.

The Judge has ruled and Oracle is left with next to nothing from its legal attacks on Google

Larry Ellison bought Sun in the hopes of winning intellectual property riches from its Java programming language. Those hopes have now been smashed. After having Oracle's Java patent claims against Google Android all but completely smashed, and a mere nine lines of code found to actually have been copied into Android from Java, Oracle's last hope was that U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup would rule that Java's application programming interfaces (API)s could be copyrighted. Instead Alsup has smashed Oracle's API claims as if they were cockroaches.

Oracle had sued Google over copyright infringement related to the use of 37 Java APIs used on the Android mobile operating system. Google argued they were free to use because Java both cause it was open source , and that, in case, APIs can't be copyrighted and that they're required to use any language.

The key point, as legal expert Pamela Jones of Groklaw pointed out was when Alsup ruled (PDF Link) that while “The overall name tree, of course, has creative elements but it is also a precise command structure — a utilitarian and functional set of symbols, each to carry out a pre-assigned function. This command structure is a system or method of operation under Section 102(b) of the Copyright Act and, therefore, cannot be copyrighted. Duplication of the command structure is necessary for interoperability.”

Alsup, unfortunately left the overall question of whether APIs can be copyrighted open. Alsup ruled:

So long as the specific code used to implement a method is different, anyone is free under the Copyright Act to write his or her own code to carry out exactly the same function or  specification of any methods used in the Java API. It does not matter that the declaration or method header lines are identical.

Under the rules of Java, they must be identical to declare a method specifying the same functionality — even when the implementation is different. When there is only one way to express an idea or function, then everyone is free to do so and no one can monopolize that  expression. And, while the Android method and class names could have been different from the names of their counterparts in Java and still have worked, copyright protection never extends to names or short phrases as a matter of law.

Therefore, “This order does not hold that Java API packages are free for all to use without license. It does not hold that the structure, sequence and organization of all computer programs may be stolen. Rather, it holds on the specific facts of this case, the particular elements replicated by Google were free for all to use under the Copyright Act.”

We can only hope that no one tries again to bring copyrights to APIs via the courts again. Still, even though Oracle's claims in this case were throughly smashed, it seems a sure thing that Oracle will appeal. Larry Ellison, Oracle's CEO, wouldn't be Larry Ellison if he gave up easily.

As Linus Torvalds, Linux’s creator, said over a week ago on Google+, “Prediction: instead of Oracle coming out and admitting they were morons about their idiotic suit against Android, they’ll come out posturing and talk about how they’ll be vindicated, and pay lawyers to take it to the next level of idiocy.” I have no doubt he's right.

That said, following in the footsteps of the European Union's European Court of Justice—the equivalent of the U.S. Supreme Court, which recently ruled that programming languages and APIs couldn't be copyrighted, Alsup has taken a small, but real, step in making sure that APIs can't be copyrighted in the U.S either.

Related Stories:

Judge hands another win to Google; rules 37 APIs not copyrightable

Behind the Headlines: the Inside Scoop on the Oracle vs Google Trial (Video)

Google kicks Oracle in its patent teeth

Copyrights, APIs, and Oracle vs Google

A Google Android and Java history lesson

Topic: Google

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  • I've told you so!

    oracle had frivolous claims all along.
    The axis of evil software should take notice: don't mess with FOSS!
    The Linux Geek
    • It's always 11:15

      Yeah, verily, thou art right. Twice a day.
      Robert Hahn
      • But anyone arguing against Linux geek

        at 11:15, twice a day, is destined to lose. It's probably a bad idea to argue arbitrarily and without thought. It doesn't make you seem any smarter than the person you are arguing against even if you do win more bets.
  • Why Oracle Bought Sun (Java)

    I think the purchase of java was significantly as protection against it going to someone else. Java is strategically important to Oracle's business which is why they wanted it really open, when Sun looked like it was going down. Now, the monetization via litigation was also a feature, in that it would defray the cost. (Oracle also picked up customers, sales people, mySQL, Solaris, and cracker-jack hardware makers in the deal. I didn't really buy the testimony that java was THE thing of value that Sun had.)

    Had someone, perhaps Sun executives, whispered in Larry's ear that Google was not at liability instead of whispering about all the billions to be had, I think Ellison would have still grabbed Sun and java. He would have paid less, perhaps.
    • Java NOT strategic? Seriously?

      Tell me how many devices use it? The advertising opportunities for logo placement alone probably paid for the Sun purchase.

      How many apps/companies even can you "manipulate" by privatizing certain essential add-ons? (That trick goes back to the MS-DOS timers issue!)

      With Java as a foundation, and a huge development population behind it, all I can see is:
    • LOL!

      Really! That's what you really believe? Sun mislead Ellison into thinking their were billions to be had in suing Google? If so, then Ellison has got some real egg on his face. What a dolt! He should be fired immediately by the shareholders of the company for he is not fit to be a CEO.

      (All of this is, of course, assuming your belief on the issue is accurate.)
  • The key phrase

    "Larry Ellison, Oracles CEO, wouldnt be Larry Ellison if he gave up easily." Oracle will definitely appeal. They'll probably lose, but Ellison's ego is too big to accept this outcome without a fight (don't get me wrong: Ellison's big ego is more asset than liability in most circumstances, but he could control it better).
    John L. Ries
    • The supreme court will make the final decision

      This will go on, and on, and on, and on . . . . . . until the Supreme Court makes the final call. Steven should have lots to write about for a very long time.

      Don't forget that will all that money that Ellison has, he can buy a few congressmen along the way and maybe get a modification to the Copyright act passed as well.

      You just never know how far he's willing to go.

      That could be good, that could be bad. One just doesn't know at this point.
      • I don't think that Oracle will appeal more than once

        Larry Ellison is a proud man, but he's not crazy.
        John L. Ries
  • A question for Rooney and Nichols

    Do you proofread your content before you publish?
  • not sure

    I am not sure if I agree that APIs can't be copy righted.

    A lot of brain power goes into creating an API. its the structure, a design, a blueprint, like a house plan. So, say you designrg an API, and then someone rips it off then you are screwed. no protection. So why do we even bother. APIs should be licenced, but, if the APIs are open souce/free, then they are free to licence, but they still belong to someone. And some terms free to use are non profit. Google is making money off the backs of others that do things for free. And now they have the green light to rip off more code from other people hard work (paid software/competition)
    • apis

      APIs dont design themselves. So why would people want to do work for free? And big buisness need them to make things simple, and they do profit from their use as they get to interact with the system/device and/or use to api and require less programming and/or saving time making their own API. In a sense an API is peronal property.
    • An API is NOTHING like a house plan.

      Build two houses with the same plan and those two houses will be identical. But two implementations of the same API can be [i]radically[/i] different from each other. Which means that one is also likely to be better, of course.
    • An API

      is an Application Programming Interface

      It is how an Application exposes itself and/or its data to another. An API is NOT the code which makes the software - it is a part of the Applications own 'language' which can be addressed. If each API is copyrighted, then how exactly are operating systems supposed to work? An OS is a collection of thousands of API's which MUST be exposed to the programs which run in the given OS. If the API's are copyright, then a programmer would pretty much need to resort to writing his own OS, with his own API's for his own programs - does that sound logical to you?

      Regardless - there was no code stolen, even though the new code may have been written to comprise a similar API.
    • Many things that require brain power can't be copyrighted

      Book names, for instance, can't be copyrighted. That's a matter of fact, I believe, under both US and UK copyright law. Maybe you mean to say that APIs *should* be copyrighted. Then you need to make an argument to public policy - what does society gain by making them copyrightable? Will there be an explosion of valuable new APIs which wouldn't otherwise be written? Or will society as a whole lose a whole lot of value as interoperability goes up in smoke? I'm pretty clear that the judge got it right on this one.
  • Because APIs need to be published before people can use them!

    The whole point of an API is for other developers to use it: it's the thing [i]behind[/i] the API - the actual implementation - that is supposed to the valuable bit.

    Put it this way: I can live with a good implementation of a bad (yet still sufficient) API. But I cannot live with a bad implementation, no matter how good the API may be. And if you want to play silly lawyer games with any of your APIs then please tell us which APIs they are because I want to make sure I never touch any of them with a 10 foot pole.
    • Copyright not needed

      Many things are published which cannot be copyrighted. You are incorrect to presume that the API for a language won't be published, if the language is copyrighted, but the API can't be.

      What this ruling means is that you as a programmer can use Java without fear of being sued for copyright infringement. You can't sell the copyrighted version of Java, but you can include the function calls in your program. (if you couldn't, then you couldn't have a working program.)

      This ruling protects Google, Oracle, Microsoft, Apple and everybody else.
  • @steven:Completely agree with your article.

    AND enjoyed you input during the Webcast yesterday. I would suggest that editor could have attended more of the trial because he was underinformed and seemed to be angling for an Oracle job like Florian. You and King were spot on.

    What the verdict can and, IMO, will do is establish a toehold API precedent along with ABI which was it's entry into the argument. It also dispels SSO as an agument. Alsup decision was clear and not likey to be overturned. So, it goes a long way.
  • Alsup's ruling on APIs

    "Alsup, unfortunately left the overall question of whether APIs can be copyrighted open."

    So it survives appeal: if ruling is too broad, Oracle will argue that this question is not for court on this level to decide.
  • Good...

    They're greedy, anti-competitive, anti-progress b******* anyway.