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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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  • Good answer (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Fjandr (66656) on Tuesday April 17, 2012 @11:12PM (#39719475) Homepage Journal

    That's probably the best answer he could have given under the circumstances, though I can understand why he was loathe to give it.

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

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 17, 2012 @11:28PM (#39719565)

      The honest answer would have been, "in some ways yes, in some ways definitely not".

      Oracle's courtroom slideshow at the bottom was really damning... as was its purpose. It's pretty clear that Java is meant to be a fucking trap.

      And there's no way we're going to get away from it any time soon. Fuck you Oracle. Fuck you twice. :(

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

      by mwvdlee (775178) on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @01:30AM (#39720129) Homepage

      Given the ambiguity of the word "free", a simple yes/no answer would most likely be incorrect for everything except public domain.

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

        by Xest (935314) on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @03:23AM (#39720613)

        I've always pondered about yes/no answers in court. I've seen judges demand either a yes or no answer on many occasions, yet to me it seems to conflict with a fundamental principle, at least in the UK justice system.

        When you give your oath to the court in the UK it's "I promise to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth".

        I remember being taught in history class of all things that it used to simply be "I promise to tell the truth, and nothing but the truth". The whole truth section was added later to prevent people giving answers that whilst true, only paint half the picture due to missing vital information or context.

        So I've often wondered in this context how a judge can push for yes/no, as in many circumstances it betrays this fundamental principle in that either answer only tells a partial truth and not a whole truth. Has this principle ever been tested? To me being forced to give a yes/no answer would mean that I was betraying my vow to tell the whole truth as either answer would only be a partial truth in a more complex situation.

        This is one of those circumstances where such an answer would in my opinion, violate such a vow, and as much as I want Oracle to lose I do also sympathise with the difficulty of just answering yes/no to that particular question.

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

          by bloodhawk (813939) on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @03:35AM (#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:5, Insightful)

          by buchner.johannes (1139593) on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @06:00AM (#39721209) Homepage Journal

          I've always pondered about yes/no answers in court. I've seen judges demand either a yes or no answer on many occasions, yet to me it seems to conflict with a fundamental principle, at least in the UK justice system.

          When you give your oath to the court in the UK it's "I promise to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth".

          I remember being taught in history class of all things that it used to simply be "I promise to tell the truth, and nothing but the truth". The whole truth section was added later to prevent people giving answers that whilst true, only paint half the picture due to missing vital information or context.

          So I've often wondered in this context how a judge can push for yes/no, as in many circumstances it betrays this fundamental principle in that either answer only tells a partial truth and not a whole truth. Has this principle ever been tested? To me being forced to give a yes/no answer would mean that I was betraying my vow to tell the whole truth as either answer would only be a partial truth in a more complex situation.

          This is one of those circumstances where such an answer would in my opinion, violate such a vow, and as much as I want Oracle to lose I do also sympathise with the difficulty of just answering yes/no to that particular question.

          You can also not answer the question "Did you stop beating your wife?" with Yes/No. Also, there are plenty of questions where the answer is between Yes and No.

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

      by jd (1658) <imipak@nOSPam.yahoo.com> on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @02:01AM (#39720277) Homepage Journal

      Makes it hard for Oracle to make a compelling case that it is non-free if the man ultimately in charge of deciding doesn't know. They may well still make a compelling case, but even if they do, this admission will impact what they can claim in damages. (Google can legitimately claim that if Oracle doesn't know what it owns, Google cannot be wholly responsible for not knowing either.)

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by hairyfeet (841228)

      I don't understand why he didn't know the answer except maybe he doesn't really know the products that he has acquired. the desktop was always free, the mobile always pay, no different than how many companies have a free consumer version and a non-free business version.

      What always amazes me is how completely rampant the hypocrisy is in the tech community as the very same ones who had a living shitfit when MSFT tried to pull the exact same trick with the desktop (which was free) have NO problem when Google d

      • by Tenebrousedge (1226584) <tenebrousedge@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @12:37PM (#39724835)

        Oracle would like to enforce a copyright claim on a programming language. Sun v. Microsoft was a trademark dispute.

        Oracle is not claiming that Google has used the Java trademarks. This phase of the trial will only examine whether Google has violated Oracle's copyrights, and there will be no examination of trademarks in any phase.

        Neither party seems to want to directly examine the question of whether programming languages or APIs can be copyrighted, which I find confusing. Oracle's stance on this issue is obvious, but Google's arguments are a little more interesting:

        Google expects the following 3 findings to be reached:

                1) there was no copyright infringement; the language is free and the APIs are necessary to use it.
                2) Sun approved its use.
                3) Android is a fair use of the Java APIs.

        I take from this that Google is arguing that programming languages may be copyrighted, but that Java was released under an open source license which Google is complying with. Point #2 seems very difficult to dispute; even Mr. One Rich Asshole has been very complimentary of Google's efforts with Java/Android.

        With regard to the linux kernel, which has zero to do with this lawsuit, Google has operated with respect to the law and the GPL; they have released the source for every binary they've distributed, and they are actively trying to merge their code with the upstream project. RMS is an idealist, and many F/OSS advocates support him in principle; you could call him the conscience of computing. However, it is recognized by all but the fanatically religious that pure ideologies function only in an ideal world, which we are not fortunate enough to live in.

        Today, we recognize that Oracle is a threat to free computing. Tomorrow we may take up the issue of free data with Google -- I sincerely doubt that meaningful digital privacy is possible, in practice if not in theory.

  • by Kenja (541830) on Tuesday April 17, 2012 @11:14PM (#39719485)
    With all the legal complications surrounding it, I would be hard pressed to say with certainty one way or the other. As a concept, I would sy its free. As an actual product, I would have to review everything in it before I could say that it is.
    • by Rennt (582550) on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @02:24AM (#39720367)
      Indeed, although one would have thought Oracle reviewed this very question before getting to court.
    • by msobkow (48369) on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @06:03AM (#39721229) Homepage Journal

      Java is a bit of a special animal. Sun conceived and promoted it as a community resource, but with a "branding" committee to ensure compatibility across deployments (one of THE primary goals of the Java ecosystem.)

      I've never heard of anyone being charged for a Java runtime or compiler, so in the sense of beer, it's free.

      But in terms of theoretical software freedom ala GPL? No, it's not free -- it's managed by the consortium.

      I'm ok with that, even from the theoretical perspective. Because when the primary goal is portability, there has to be a steward of some sort to test compatibility and ensure portability.

      That said, Oracle seems to be determined to try to seize the product line back as a proprietary thing, and I don't believe that's going to work. Even if they prove they have the necessary copyright/patent control in court, there are a lot of OTHER companies who contributed THEIR patents and copyrights to the Java framework, such as HP's patents on springs-and-struts layout managers that are used by the GUI framework.

      Personally I believe Oracle is pushing the question of copyright on Java as a means of getting it clarified by the courts that languages are not copyrightable, rather than in any actual hope of winning such a claim. Because if they win such a claim, they're immediately subject to the copyrights of the C/C++ like syntax from which Java derives, and would effectively kill Java completely. Oracle and the rest of the consortium members won't want that, so it has to be a case of "we want to make sure no one ever tries to copyright a language again."

      • by msobkow (48369) on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @07:10AM (#39721517) Homepage Journal

        Just to clarify: Although Java is technically free because it was released under the GPL, it's not free because in practice all the enhancements and changes to the core code and syntax come through the management and control of the consortium. So although you can make your own changes to the GPL code, I don't know of any way to get those changes upstream without going through the feature committees.

        • by canajin56 (660655) on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @08:48AM (#39722275)
          So the Linux kernel isn't compatible with the GPL, because although technically released under the GPL, I can't get my changes upstream without going through the group in charge of it? OK.

          At any rate, the question according to not-tfa (which confuses GPL with public domain), the question wasn't the ambiguous "is java free?" but "anyone can use the JPL (java programming language) without paying royalties, yes?" which he had previously answered "Correct" in the deposition, and on the stand he tried to be evasive.

          The problem is that Oracle is saying that although the code is GPL, the API is proprietary, so by writing code while referencing the API Google has violated copyright and needs a license for all of their code. (They also have mostly-invalidated patent claims, to be settled later). Suing over patents and suing over the API mean its a very legit question to ask if ANYBODY can use Java without being sued by Oracle, and Oracle WILL NOT SAY.

          • by metamatic (202216) on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @10:38AM (#39723299) Homepage Journal

            The problem is that Oracle is saying that although the code is GPL, the API is proprietary, so by writing code while referencing the API Google has violated copyright and needs a license for all of their code.

            The interesting thing is that if Oracle won this argument, one could presumably argue that Oracle's database on Linux is dependent upon the Linux kernel API, and hence must fall under the GPL.

  • Free? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Black Parrot (19622) on Tuesday April 17, 2012 @11:14PM (#39719489)

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

    • Re:Free? (Score:5, Informative)

      by CrimsonAvenger (580665) on Tuesday April 17, 2012 @11:23PM (#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"....

      • Re:Free? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @12:19AM (#39719789) Homepage Journal

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

        Ellison: Not sure.

        The correct answer is, "of course they can, it was released under the GPLv2 [slashdot.org] which says, in part:

        7. ... If you cannot
        distribute so as to satisfy simultaneously your obligations under this
        License and any other pertinent obligations, then as a consequence you
        may not distribute the Program at all. For example, if a patent
        license would not permit royalty-free redistribution of the Program by
        all those who receive copies directly or indirectly through you, then
        the only way you could satisfy both it and this License would be to
        refrain entirely from distribution of the Program.

        But ... and I think this is the rub of the case - even though anybody can use Java freely through the GPL, it's not known that Google went that route, probably to avoid having to make Android redistributable (even though it often is anyway). At least I haven't seen Google claim that Davlik etc. are derivavtive works of the GPLv2 release of Java.

        So, the ability to keep Android closed when they want to must be worth more to Google than whatever they might eventually have to pay to Oracle.

        • Re:Free? (Score:5, Informative)

          by ChunderDownunder (709234) on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @12:25AM (#39719809)

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

          • Re:Free? (Score:4, Informative)

            by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @12:57AM (#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.

        • Re:Free? (Score:5, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @02:02AM (#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.

        • Re:Free? (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Xtifr (1323) on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @02:25AM (#39720371) Homepage

          The language was not released under the GPL--a particular implementation of the compiler and VM was released under the GPL. The language is an abstract thing that happens to have multiple implementations of varying quality (Kaffe, gcj, etc., etc.). Sun's implementation is the only one that can use the trademarked name "java" (so far), but it's not the only implementation of the language.

          Note that Oracle has been trying to confuse the distinction between Java-the-abstract-language and Java-the-virtual-machine since they started this case. This reminds me of the way that SCO tried to confuse the distinction between UNIX, SYSV and Unixware in their case. Of course, the fact that Oracle is using the same lawyers as SCO did may be related....

          • by loufoque (1400831)

            The language is an abstract thing

            Note that while a language cannot be subject to copyright, it can be subject to patents.

      • Re:Free? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Mr. Underbridge (666784) on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @12:43AM (#39719899)
        Yeah, I'm sure Ellison's company didn't do any due diligence at all regarding Java rights and ownership before buying Sun. Suuuuuure.
  • Not surprised (Score:4, Interesting)

    by drew_92123 (213321) on Tuesday April 17, 2012 @11:15PM (#39719495)

    Just another rich out of touch moron who doesn't know anything about his company...

    • Re:Not surprised (Score:4, Interesting)

      by geekmux (1040042) on Tuesday April 17, 2012 @11:32PM (#39719589)

      Just another rich out of touch moron who doesn't know anything about his company...

      Not that I necessarily disagree with you, but I challenge you to answer the question accurately and while under oath. Remember we're looking for a "Yes" or "No" answer here...because all software licenses/patents/agreements are that black and white of course...

      Oracles own lawyers would have likely given this answer. Only difference is they've had years of practice saying it in various ways, all of which don't sound near as stupid as "I don't know".

      • by SmallFurryCreature (593017) on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @12:18AM (#39719781) Journal

        Court cases are not a giant free for all. Read up on deposition. Google asked this question before the live trial AND it was answered by Elison as bing correct, java is free. He knew the question was coming because Google lawyers told him well inn advance that it would and he submited his answer in writing. Now in court he suddenky doesnt know? How gullible are you?

        Elison is a dinosaur who just hates google for not using oracle databases. Google was smart enough to stay away fro, that steaming pile of crap. If only they had been smart enough to stay away from Java. Ms and Apple were.

      • Ellison was not exactly blindsided by this lawsuit. Nor was he blindsided by his day in court. I would expect him, as the Big Cheese, to be briefed on this ahead of time because, well, he's the goddamn Big Cheese.

        So, under normal circumstances, if you pulled Ellison off the street and asked "Is the JPL free?" I would expect an "I don't know."

        However, when your calendar says, "Lay smack down on Google in court today!!" I'd expect you to have crammed the weeks prior.

        Also, we're not looking for a yes/no answ

      • by Hatta (162192)

        Java is GPLd. It's free. There is no ambiguity.

    • Re:Not surprised (Score:4, Interesting)

      by RyuuzakiTetsuya (195424) <{taiki} {at} {cox.net}> on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @12:00AM (#39719709)

      OR a CEO on the stand being asked a question that's difficult to answer based on *purely* legal matters.

      Is Java "open"? I don't even know if Oracle's lawyers know the specific answer to that question, because what is open? In a PURELY legal stand point, is open about source distribution? Is open about the licensing? Is it about the JDK APIs? What IS open?

      that's a question Larry Ellison would've also tanked on too, I'd bet.

    • by MrEricSir (398214) on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @12:13AM (#39719755) Homepage

      Let's be fair here, Ellison isn't a rich out of touch moron, he just hasn't caught up on work lately because he's too busy working on his yacht racing. And it's an uphill battle. He even had to pay another team to race against him [sfist.com] in a race that he's paying for. [reuters.com]

    • by srussia (884021) on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @03:46AM (#39720735)
      They order two martinis. The guy behind the bar pours them two Budweisers.

      "This martini is great," rave Larry and Timmy, "what's your secret?"

      "I dunno, the bartender went out to get some cigarettes, I'm just the owner."
  • MAD. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by RyuuzakiTetsuya (195424) <{taiki} {at} {cox.net}> on Tuesday April 17, 2012 @11:20PM (#39719519)

    I don't think this lawsuit is going to be good for anyone but Apple.

    Google might get a huge kick in the junk over Dalvik, Oracle might get a huge kick in the junk over whether or not Java is even an open platform or not, and the only ones who look to gain are Apple and maybe Microsoft.

  • by bmo (77928) on Tuesday April 17, 2012 @11:23PM (#39719545)

    A language is nothing but a listing of words and how they are used. It is a cataloging of facts.

    Facts, as such, are not copyrightable. You can't copyright the listings in a phone book, and neither can you copyright the contents of a header file. Because there is no creative content, and as far as the US is concerned, "sweat of the brow" does not give you copyright.

    This is why Oracle is not going after IBM for Iced Tea, because Oracle they know they have nothing and are afraid of what the Nazgul might do in retaliation.

    --
    BMO

    • by tlhIngan (30335)

      Well, Java might be free, but the patents used to implement the JVM may not be.

      It's why Microsoft licenses the patents in question from Sun/Oracle even though they don't do Java anymore. They license it for their .NET CLR.

      Now, Sun back then gave anyone with a compatible J2SE implementation (and probably J2EE) a license to the patents for free (because you can't implement a JVM without them).

      However, they didn't extend this to J2ME, and reaped tons of money off of licensing for cellphones, blu-ray players, e

      • by bmo (77928)

        You are correct, but it also means that those patents have to be valid.

        Just because someone pays for a license fee doesn't mean the patent was valid in the first place. Remember that Microsoft and Sun both gave piles of money to SCO for "SCO Source licenses" when they already had licenses paid for in perpetuity (this was just a fig-leaf for champerty).

        --
        BMO

    • Not that I want to disagree with you on this subject, but there's a difference between a cataloging of unrelated information and information which relates to each other.

      A language is not "nothing but a listing of words an how they're used", a language is an idea which is described in a specification and/or implementation. That idea satisfies that "minimum amount of creativity" you need in order to copyright something.

      Otherwise, a novel would just be a "narration of fictitious characters and things they did

  • And I'll be god damned if we're not going to make that money back! The world owes us big time!

  • by XDirtypunkX (1290358) on Tuesday April 17, 2012 @11:40PM (#39719629)

    It's actually because Larry couldn't understand the word "free" in the context of an Oracle product.

  • WWSD? (Score:5, Funny)

    by identity0 (77976) on Tuesday April 17, 2012 @11:43PM (#39719641) Journal

    What would Stallman testify to?

    "You see, when we say 'Free', we mean not just free as in cost, but Free as in Freedom, or as we sometimes say, 'libre software'. This means that software which does not place restrictions on the develope-"
    "Yes or no, Mr. Stallman?"
    "Well, your honor, to be Free Software means that one follows the guidelines of the Free Software Foundation-"
    "Yes or no, Mr. Stallman?"
    "To be technically be Free, Java would have to-"
    "Yes or no, Mr. Stallman?"
    "I'd just like to interject for a mo-"
    "The court finds the witness to be guilty... I don't know how, but he is somehow."

    • by jkrise (535370)

      Good one!

      I remembered this conference in Belfast years ago; when an Oracle executive got grilled for describing some products as 'free'....

      http://www.linuxjournal.com/article/8941 [linuxjournal.com]

      "Owen Hughes, of Oracle, managed not to fall afoul of Stallman. Instead, Hughes angered the entire audience. Working from a
      slick presentation that was more "sales pitch" than "technical
      information", Hughes referred to numerous Oracle products that are
      "free". For each product, the standard pitch was, "I've us

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by unixisc (2429386)

        I'm not a fan of Oracle, but it's actually Owen Hughes who was using the word 'free' the right way - the way it's understood in English. Stallman's redefinition of the word is completely warped, and so was Bruce Perens' advice in this case.

        The correct question to him should have been, 'Is it open-source?' I know, that's not what Stallman is interested in, since it doesn't feed his agenda. But such a question would have enabled Hughes to give a direct answer. The heckler who said 'Don't use the word 'f

  • by Trip6 (1184883) on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @12:03AM (#39719717)

    If the core of the lawsuit is over the free parts of Java, are you telling me Ellison was not even prepped enough to answer that question? Who will get fired over that I wonder?

  • by sproketboy (608031) on Wednesday April 18, 2012 @05:59AM (#39721207)

    A Google engineer, Tim Lindholm, said in a February 2006 e- mail that the company was in negotiations for a Java license. Google didn’t agree to the terms of a type of license that allows companies to use Java code and write new code on top of it which “you have to give back to the open-source community,” Jacobs said.

    “You can’t keep it for yourself,” the Oracle lawyer said. “They broke the basic rules of the Java programming community.”

    So I don't get why the open source crowd is all pro Google on this.

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