The muddled mess of the Oracle vs. Google trial

The muddled mess of the Oracle vs. Google trial

Summary: There were no winners in Oracle vs. Google. Only losers, including all programmers, and perhaps everyone else as well.


Not counting the APIs, here is the code Google was found to have copied from Java.

Not counting the APIs, here's how much  code Google was found to have copied from Java.

On the surface, it may look like Oracle won the first round of its intellectual property (IP) lawsuit with Google. Look again. No one's won anything and that includes Oracle.

While we wait to see what the jury has to say about the two remaining patents, let's take a closer look at what the jury decided. They said that Google’s Android mobile platform infringed on part of the Java programming language. So, could this be, as one writer would have it, “be a major blow to Android, Google's mobile operating system?” Nope.

You see the jury, however, couldn't decide if Google's violations of Java and its application programming interfaces (API)s were actually OK because its use of them in Android fell under fair use. Ack!

Google, immediately asked for a mis-trial. Judge William Alsup, who's presiding over this case, had previously said, that “I’m not going to let this court go to waste.” It sure looks like a waste to me.

Google also claimed that pending further rulings by Judge Alsup, there is "zero finding of copyright liability" outside of nine lines of code—nine lines that Oracle has attributed "no value" to in its damages report.

Those nine lines of code? Not counting the APIs, which the jury has awarded Oracle, is all Oracle has that was “copied” from Java into Android. Amazing isn't it?

Whether Alsup grants a mis-trail or not isn't really material though. Regardless of who won, lost, or drew this case, it was destined to be appealed. After all, does anyone seriously think a jury made up of, among others, of a plumber, a nurse, a retired photographer, and a postal worker was going to get the final word on a major IP lawsuit involving two of the largest companies in the world? I don't think so.

And, indeed, this is just the kind of bad decision you'd expect from a jury in a case over its head. As it is, they've decided that APIs can be copyrighted but that, in the case of Java, they can't decide if anyone using them can actually get into any trouble.

This is the worst of all possible worlds. Oracle won't see any money—not that I think Oracle has a snowball's chance in hell of winning anything in this case anyway--but the jury did decide that APIs can be copyrighted. That's not good.

As my CNET colleague Stephen Shankland reports, RedMonk analyst Stephen O'Grady thinks "A decision in favor of copyrightable APIs is likely to be at least as damaging as the patent system is today. And, my just look at how well IP patents have turned out for everyone!

As Andrew Binstock, editor in chief for the venerable programmers publication Dr Dobbs wrote, “If Oracle prevails in its claim that APIs can be copyrighted, nearly every aspect of programming will be changed for the worse.”

Specifically, Binstock continued, should APIs be ruled subject to copyright, “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.

Microsoft, by the by, is the one that's buying the rights to JavaScript. So, if APIs can indeed be copyrighted, all of us who use programs based on these languages—that would be everyone on the planet—will face much higher software prices.

I hope, oh how I hope, this part of the Oracle vs. Google ruling is over-turned as fast as possible. Or, better still Judge Alsup rules that APIs can't be copyrighted. It's within his power to do so.  If not, and APIs can be copyrighted, everything about programming is going to change and not in a good way.

Related Stories:

After mixed copyright win over Google, Oracle looks towards patents

Oracle wins on infringement; jury stuck on Google's fair use argument

Oracle vs. Google: Dead lawsuit walking

CNET: Oracle gets a chance to rewrite software law

CNET: Android, Java, and the tech behind Oracle v. Google (FAQ)

Topics: Google, Enterprise Software, Legal, Oracle, Software Development

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  • The jury didn't rule that APIs are copyrightable

    The jury didn't rule that APIs are copyrightable. The judge instructed the jury to [i]assume[/i] that APIs are copyrightable. However, he has to rule on that question himself (whether APIs are copyrightable is a matter of law, not of fact). Hopefully the judge will make the right decision and rule that APIs are not copyrightable (they are functional). He is aware of the recent EU decision.
    • I'm sure he won't cite the EU decision, though

      What he doesn't need is a chorus of idiots claiming that he's following foreign law instead of US law.
      John L. Ries
      • Right, and that would also lead to an instant appeal.

        And who cares what the EU does--though I agree with their position--as this is between two US companies in a US court.

        As to SJVN's points, I would say that it was only the people over at Groklaw who blabbed on and on about the end of Java as we know it. Let's say Oracle won everything 100% (obviously they wont), there's no way they would shut down Android or anything else. They want licensing money from Android.
    • nerd6

      I've been involved in federal cases where IP is the issue and copyrights. Unless this is a really savvy judge anything could happen. i was in one case where a judge ruled that a product infringed on the architecture of the other because they both asked questions and gave answers. Can you imagine the lawsuits that would have sprung up if that decision had not been changed?
      • really savvy judge

        Oh, yes - he is.
        I've read most of the transcripts posted on groklaw - the kind of questions he was asking and difference between those questions as trial progressed - he really showed a lot of common sense.
  • Oracle has "won" 9 lines of code that have no value. And that's all.

    As per the jury's instructions, they assumed that APIs could be copyrighted. So Google has only infringed if the Judge rules that APIs deserve copyright protection after all.

    Based on the verdict so far, Oracle has won only the price of a ham sandwich.
    • 9 lines of no value?

      The jury is seems to believe a value exists, and so does Google, else why would Google have copied the code?

      While true, more decisions must be made, the fact that Google was so sloppy as to infringe in the first place left their customers open to claims by Oracle, MS, Apple and others.
      • No value as in "ZERO liability".

        The Judge has ruled that Google currently has ZERO liability for copyright infringement. [i]That[/i] is what Oracle has "won" here.
      • It Was Oracle Who Said They Had No Value

        It was Oracle who said the nine lines of code had no value. Who is going to argue with them?
    • then why is google moving for a mistrial?

      I havent followed the case as close as you have so please explain.
    • Does anyone else think the judge should have decided on APIs first?

      If he decided no first, he would have reduced the first part of this trial to just the 9 lines of code in question.
  • Steven's typical vitriolic response

    Well, what did we expect? Steven predicted that Google could never lose, now that they've lost part of the case (remainder to be decided) he turns to criticizing the jury of a plumber, nurse, photographer, etc. Typical of Steven, lose and throw a tantrum.

    About the only thing he might be right on will be appeals. If Google was smart, they'd negotiate a license. As it is, they simply drag out a long court case and become a litigant, just like the patent trolls. If Oracle owns it, pay up!

    I know some don't believe Oracle owns anything, but the courts will decide that one. Once it's decided, Google and those that sell Android could have a big problem. Maybe a bit of proactive fence mending would prove to be to their advantage?
    • You've already decided they lost

      Who made you judge & jury?
    • Copyright was already decided

      The judge specificially stated there was ZERO LIABILITY. Oracle's own experts said the 9 lines of code were worth $0. No need for a license at this time.
    • Oracle bought a lemonade stand that gives away the lemonade.

      Oracle bought a lemonade stand that gives away the lemonade. Now they want to sue to get paid for the lemonade the previous owner gave away.

      "If Oracle owns it, pay up!"

      That is still a mighty big IF.
  • start writing your own compiler, programming language and perish doing noth

    Wish I can see what code was copied by Google. To be safe, let me start writing my own compiler, programming language, then my own database, then build my own OS and then my machine, may be die before doing all this. How do we move forward with all this crap, shouldn't we stop inventing the wheel somewhere? This is what you would expect when companies like Oracle take control well fledged open source Java programming languages.
    • Well, Google HAVE now invented the Go programming language.

      But at the time of Android they were in a hurry and wanted something Free that they could copy, and there wasn't anything. So they ripped something non-Free.
      • peter_erskine

  • Not to mention the judge!

    "After all, does anyone seriously think a jury made up of, among others, of a plumber, a nurse, a retired photographer, and a postal worker was going to get the final word on a major IP lawsuit involving two of the largest companies in the world? I don???t think so."

    And who knows how technically proficient the judge is! God knows, if a judge can't do binary multiplication or know what an address pointer is, he shouldn't be presiding over a case of this technical depth!

    Seriously, Steven. Do you not know how juries are supposed to work? The whole "base decisions on facts presented" thing doesn't quite jive with your questioning the technical prowess of the jurors, but I'm sure it makes the self-proclaimed technical elite feel all high and mighty. Because.. you know.. they'd never come up with a wrong answer, would they?
  • It's up to the Judge now. This is actually a good outcome!

    The Jury actually handed out exactly the verdict that the Judge had set them up for with his Jury instructions. So really, no surprises here. Here's hoping that the careful questions that the Hon. Judge Alsup has been asking over the past two weeks about Java and API specifics translate into a resounding "NO. APIs cannot be copyrighted" ruling with legal insights on the issue. In a way, this split verdict would force him to make that decision and ruling, so this is actually a good outcome for the open-source world in general, and Google in particular!