The muddled mess of the Oracle vs. Google trial

There were no winners in Oracle vs. Google. Only losers, including all programmers, and perhaps everyone else as well.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

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)

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