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Java Oracle The Courts

Ellison Doesn't Know If Java Is Free 393

Posted by Soulskill
from the it-is-except-where-it-isn't dept.
New submitter Emacs.Cmode sends this excerpt from CNet: "Among the highlights emanating from U.S. District Court in San Francisco courtroom 8 today was Oracle CEO Larry Ellison's response to a question regarding the status of the Java programming language, which his company acquired when it bought Sun Microsystems in 2010. Asked by Google's lead attorney, Robert Van Nest, if the Java language is free, Ellison was slow to respond. Judge William Alsup pushed Ellison to answer with a yes or no. As ZDNet reporter Rachel King observed in the courtroom, Ellison resisted and huffed, 'I don't know.'" Groklaw has a good write-up about what happened during day one of the trial and a briefer summary of what happened on day two.
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Ellison Doesn't Know If Java Is Free

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  • by smileygladhands (1909508) on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @12:22AM (#39719541)

    They pay them billions of dollars to look pretty and play golf. Ellison's the prettiest. And he smells like pie. If they really wanted to know anything about Java, they should have asked an Oracle employee who makes a immeasurably miniscule fraction of Ellison's salary.

    Actually, Ellison's annual salary is 1$, no joke. He is paid in stock to avoid income taxes.

  • Re:Free? (Score:5, Informative)

    by CrimsonAvenger (580665) on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @12:23AM (#39719549)

    What, precisely, does it mean if you say a programming language is free?

    Well, in context:

    Google: The Java Programming Language (JPL) -- nobody owns the Java Programming Language, right?

    Ellison: I am not sure.

    Google: Anyone can use the JPL without paying royalties, yes?

    Ellison: Not sure.

    This is apparently significant because in his deposition, he answered those questions with "That's correct"....

  • by Fjandr (66656) on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @12:40AM (#39719627) Homepage Journal

    For one thing, you don't have to sell stock to use it. You can borrow against its value and, if you have enough, can essentially do so indefinitely.

    It's also taxed at capital gains rates if it's sold, which are much lower than standard income tax rates (15% maximum under US law currently for investments held for at least a year). Capital gains can also be offset by tax losses, which can carry forward forever, or through structured sales.

  • by bmo (77928) on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @12:46AM (#39719653)

    Sigh...

    Feist Publications, Inc., v. Rural Telephone Service Co., 499 U.S. 340 (1991),[1] commonly called Feist v. Rural, is an important United States Supreme Court case establishing that information alone without a minimum of original creativity cannot be protected by copyright. In the case appealed, Feist had copied information from Rural's telephone listings to include in its own, after Rural had refused to license the information. Rural sued for copyright infringement. The Court ruled that information contained in Rural's phone directory was not copyrightable and that therefore no infringement existed.

    1991. SCOTUS.

    This is a rather famous case and anyone with even a passing familiarity with copyright should have read about this at least once.

    Sorry to burst *your* bubble.

    --
    BMO

  • by fliptout (9217) on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @12:59AM (#39719703) Homepage

    Ok, let's go there.

    If you sell the stock less than 12 months after exercising the stock option, you pay regular income taxes.

    If you sell the stock 12 months after exercising the option, you pay 15%.

    http://www.smartmoney.com/personal-finance/taxes/taxes-on-nonqualified-stock-options-9304/ [smartmoney.com]

    http://www.smartmoney.com/personal-finance/taxes/taxes-on-incentive-stock-options-12196/ [smartmoney.com]

  • by Dahamma (304068) on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @01:24AM (#39719799)

    You have no idea what you are talking about. Capital gains is obviously a form of income tax. So are dividends, gambling winnings, rental properties, etc. They are not all taxed at the same rate, but that's totally irrelevant.

    Everything you put on your 1040 is a form of "income tax". That's why it's official name is "Form 1040, U.S. Individual Income Tax Return". There really isn't even any debate on it, the IRS clearly states capital gains are part of your income tax.

  • Re:Free? (Score:5, Informative)

    by ChunderDownunder (709234) on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @01:25AM (#39719809)

    Java as GPL was unvailable at the time Google developed dalvik. Sun freed the code later.

  • Re:Free? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @01:26AM (#39719813)

    That's not the JPL, that's the JDK and JRE. Not the same, hence Google's prodding about the language itself, not any particular implementation.

  • Re:Free? (Score:4, Informative)

    by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @01:57AM (#39719955) Homepage Journal

    Java as GPL was unvailable at the time Google developed dalvik. Sun freed the code later.

    That's true as of 2005, but they could have forked and merged any time after Nov. 2006, even if they didn't keep a tremendous amount of the original OpenJDK code (IIRC having some of the headers is part of the current argument).

    They'd just have to re-license the Android, Inc. code under GPL and then merge it.

    I suppose Oracle could have still gone after them for pre-2006 'violations' but I think it would be hard to prove much in the way of damages from that time period.

  • by robbak (775424) on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @02:28AM (#39720119) Homepage

    No, this is not about patents. The arguments on patents come later. The patent arguments, when they start, have been trimmed down to one patent that has been ruled invalid, but the time period to appeal that rejection has not yet expired; and another that has had its scope trimmed back, which, together with some admissions made by Oracle, Google argues, clears Android of infringement.

    At the moment, this is only about copyrights. Oracle claims that, when they Sun released documentation about the APIs used in Java, the copyright on them prevents anyone else making a clean-room alternate implementation of them. Oh, and that GPLing it all, congratulating Google for implementing those APIs, and publicly assisting Harmony and GNU Classpath( both alternate clean-room implementations ) doesn't affect that at all. The rest of us are just shaking our heads and wondering if they will ever reveal the directions to the universe where this might be the case.

  • Re:Free? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @03:02AM (#39720285)

    From what I gather this is Oracle's beef:
    If you want to call your runtime virtual machine that you wrote 'Java' you must pass the TCK and purchase a Java commercial license. Ellison is pissed because Google didn't do that. Google wrote their own runtime virtual machine and they didn't call it Java so they wouldn't need the license to use the trademark 'Java'. Google can thumb their noses at Oracle because there are no restrictions on using the Java programming language and compilers, there are only restrictions on the runtime envirnoment.
    At this point, what can Oracle do to extract money from Google? Well it appears they are trying to put restrictions on realistic uses of the Java programming language by claiming that you can't use the Java APIs without Oracle's permission because they are copyrighted. Now, historically the courts have ruled that APIs are not copyrightable so Oracle is tapdancing around with the arrangement and grouping of APIs being special. It also looks like Oracle is going to try to go after Google for the comments in the header files as infringing on Oracle's copywritten Java specifications.
    Oracle has a really weak hand and they know it, but they also have good lawyers. It'll be interesting to see of they can confuse the Java Language, APIs and specifications in the minds of the jurors and convince them that Google did something wrong.

  • by voidphoenix (710468) on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @03:29AM (#39720383)

    Unfortunately for your argument, languages are far from information alone with a minimum of original creativity. They take a lot of thinking, planning, and creative thought in order to come up with a structure for others to work in. I completely disagree with Oracle's position here, but you can't claim that creating a programming language is like listing facts in a telephone directory, it takes a lot more work and creativity than that and it is not created based on merely observing the world but on copying the good bits of other languages (so Oracle is crazy to even go down this path). It's more like creating a font, a dictionary, or recipes, all of which have *elements* which are copyrightable, but are in this same murky grey area, precisely because they are used by so many other people to create other stuff, which makes it of questionable value to society to lock them up with copyright.

    The amount of effort requires to come up with a language has nothing to do with what is copyrightable. As a direct analogue, here's the US Copyright Office's page on games. Notice: [copyright.gov]

    Copyright does not protect the idea for a game, its name or title, or the method or methods for playing it. Nor does copyright protect any idea, system, method, device, or trademark material involved in developing, merchandising, or playing a game. Once a game has been made public, nothing in the copyright law prevents others from developing another game based on similar principles. Copyright protects only the particular manner of an author’s expression in literary, artistic, or musical form.

    I bring up games because the principles are exactly the same. The rulebook which comes with the game, is a written description of the rules. It is *not* the rules, it is a particular expression in literary form, and is therefore subject to copyright. But the actual rules, the principles, mechanics, algorithms and procedures of the game, are mathematical abstractions. They are ideas, not subject to copyright.

    A dictionary is not a language. It describes the language. It is an expression which is copyrightable. A grammar book is not language. It is another description, another literary expression, also copyrightable. Language is abstract. It is a set of rules, and rules are not copyrightable. The _description_ of the rules is copyrightable. In the same vein, the API specification document is copyrightable. The API itself is not. This is an important distinction that most people fail to make.

    If Google, for example, were to reproduce Java's API documentation verbatim and distribute it with the Android SDK, they would be in violation of copyright. But if anyone merely read the API and re-implemented the language based on the described rules, they wouldn't be violating any copyright. They may have copied the ideas, but ideas cannot be copyrighted.

  • Re:Blu ray (Score:5, Informative)

    by Xtifr (1323) on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @03:42AM (#39720431) Homepage

    Blue Ray players license Oracle's JVM. That's reasonable, Oracle/Sun wrote that. Google wrote their own VM from scratch that doesn't work anything like Oracle's JVM. The only thing it has in common is: a bunch of APIs and nine lines of code (added by accident and long since removed). That's it. That's the basis of Oracle's infringement claims.

    APIs have long been held to be uncopyrightable. Oracle is trying to change well-established case law, and if they succeed, it's going to raise a shitstorm, not just with Java users, but throughout the industry!

  • Re:Good answer (Score:5, Informative)

    by bloodhawk (813939) on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @04:35AM (#39720685)
    I was on a Jury for 6 weeks in a murder trial a few years ago. I was actually pleasantly suprised to find the Judge basically bitch slapped the prosecution or defense any time they tried to make a witness give a yes/no answer when the witness clearly believed it could not be legitimately answered as such and then would proceed to allow the witness to answer how they deemed appropriate.
  • Re:Good answer (Score:4, Informative)

    by durdur (252098) on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @10:25AM (#39722609)

    It pains me to say it, but he's no idiot...

    No, he's not. And I know a lot of technies who have a weak grasp of copyright and licensing, despite the fact that some of them think they know about it. This is why companies have lawyers.

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