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Court: Oracle Entitled To Copyright Protection Over Some Parts of Java 303

Posted by Soulskill
from the cue-the-wailing-and-gnashing-of-teeth dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Remember the court battle between Google and Oracle? It's the one where Oracle claimed Android violated Oracle's patents and copyright related to Java. Oracle thought they deserved $6 billion in compensation, but ended up getting nothing. Well, it's still going, and the tide is turning somewhat in Oracle's favor. An appeals court decided that Oracle can claim copyright over some parts of Java. It's a complicated ruling (PDF) — parts of it went Google's way and parts of it went Oracle's way — but here's the most important line: '[T]he declaring code and the structure, sequence, and organization of the 37 Java API packages at issue are entitled to copyright protection.' A jury's earlier finding of infringement has been reinstated, and now it's up to Google to justify its actions under fair use."
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Court: Oracle Entitled To Copyright Protection Over Some Parts of Java

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 09, 2014 @01:07PM (#46960641)

    There is a lesson to be learnt here: Never depend on programming language, which is not under appropriate free license.

    Apache Foundation, do you hear me?

    • I can't wait for phone books to be copyrighted.

    • by phantomfive (622387) on Friday May 09, 2014 @01:20PM (#46960759) Journal
      This has nothing to do with using Java. It has to do with implementing your own incompatible version of the language. If all you want to do is use Java, or implement a compatible version, the license is good and you will have no problem.
      • by Rich0 (548339) on Friday May 09, 2014 @01:26PM (#46960831) Homepage

        This has nothing to do with using Java. It has to do with implementing your own incompatible version of the language. If all you want to do is use Java, or implement a compatible version, the license is good and you will have no problem.

        The problem with this is that you now are subject to somebody else's sole determination that you are/aren't "compatible" or else you get stuck in endless litigation.

        If you build entirely on free-licensed components, then nobody has any control over what you do.

        • That's incorrect. With Java, you have a few options: 1) Fork the GPL version of Java. In such a case, you can have absolutely no compatibility and still be in the clear. 2) Write your own Java implementation, but have it meet the standard. I'm pretty sure what is and isn't compatible is laid out pretty clearly. 3) Pay Oracle enough for a license to do what you want.
          • by ADRA (37398) on Friday May 09, 2014 @02:54PM (#46961641)

            1. Isn't actually true. You need to stay well within the lines or draw the ire and lawsuits from Oracle
            2. Isn't true because you need to to be licensed by Oracle in order to be verified as 'compatible' and if they say no then guess what?
            3. Yup, that's pretty much the only route you have

        • The problem with this is that you now are subject to somebody else's sole determination that you are/aren't "compatible" or else you get stuck in endless litigation.

          The test suite that tests for compatibility is now open source (although the licensing is messy, it is ultimately usable), so that isn't a problem anymore. It was a problem before, you are right.

        • The problem with this is that you now are subject to somebody else's sole determination that you are/aren't "compatible"

          and that's superior to letting every implementation decide if it is compatible? sort of like having the company that builds a bridge decide if the bridge meets all safety requirements?

          it's of the definition of compatibility. there has to be some board, committee, test suite ... some single point that decides compatibility. and yeah, java SE is a big complicated thing and i'd expect that getting accepted as compatible would be a big pain in the ass.

      • by ADRA (37398)

        Tell that to Apache Harmony. Oracle refuses to make the certification 100% free / license un-encumbered, so here we are. You can't release a 'Java' runtime without certification, and you can't be certified unless you sign contracts with Oracle to bend over the barrel.

      • by DrJimbo (594231) on Friday May 09, 2014 @04:53PM (#46962531)

        If all you want to do is use Java, or implement a compatible version, the license is good and you will have no problem.

        This is completely false. Oracle changed the rules around for what it means to be "compatible" so that only projects that Oracle likes will be deemed compatible. Apache is being forced into a Java Fork [zdnet.com]:

        The problem's core is that first Sun, and now Oracle, won't give Apache a chance to certify Apache's Project Harmony as being Java Platform, Standard Edition (Java SE) compliant.

        Apache: I know my rights. I want my compatibility certification!

        Oracle: How can you get a certification if you can't take the test?

    • by ackthpt (218170)

      There is a lesson to be learnt here: Never depend on programming language, which is not under appropriate free license.

      Apache Foundation, do you hear me?

      Once the ballyhoo and excitement at the birth of a new language have subsided it is quickly supplanted by the motherly urge to control and protect.

  • by pegr (46683) on Friday May 09, 2014 @01:08PM (#46960651) Homepage Journal

    If ever there was a time we needed you... :(

    • by phantomfive (622387) on Friday May 09, 2014 @01:42PM (#46960985) Journal
      Check out the ruling yourself [uscourts.gov], it's surprisingly readable and will make you smarter.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by maroberts (15852)

        It may be surprisingly readable, but Justice Alsups original ruling was extremely clear cut, no nonsense and demonstrated a clear understanding of technical issues and accepting Oracles arguments. Accepting it also would have also limited or prevented a lot of litigation in the future.

        • by phantomfive (622387) on Friday May 09, 2014 @02:55PM (#46961655) Journal

          It may be surprisingly readable, but Justice Alsups original ruling was extremely clear cut, no nonsense and demonstrated a clear understanding of technical issues and accepting Oracles arguments.

          It may have been clear cut, but he was wrong. The present ruling explains why, read it.

          Essentially: 1) He muddled his logic between 'copyrightablity' and 'fair use,' two different concepts.
          2) He didn't respect previous rulings and standard court procedures (such as the Abstraction, Filteration, Comparison [wikipedia.org] test).
          3) A lot of his logic rested on the Lotus case, which isn't commonly used as a precedent, and isn't relevant to this case anyway.

          Realistically there's no reason to believe that APIs aren't copyrightable. Do you deny that building an API requires a lot of creativity? Making a good API is hard work, and deserves protection as much as music does. This isn't even a particularly important question (whether anything at all deserves protection is another issue; here we are talking about what is currently legal).

          The more important and relevant question is whether the Google usage falls under fair use. If it does, then they can use the API anyway.

          • by kqs (1038910)

            Oh dear. This could be a problem for anyone who uses a C compiler. Who owns the original C APIs anyways? Dennis Ritchie maybe?

            I wonder who owns the SQL APIs? Oracle may have a problem here...

      • Thanks for the link. I read: The jury found that Google infringed Oracle’s copyrights in the 37 Java packages and a specific computer routine called “rangeCheck,”

        Fuck rangeCheck. I don't care if Oracle gets $1B for that stupid 10-line function that any moron could write in 5 minutes. Oracle succeeding in copyrighting an API, which last a freaking 100 years, is death to our industry.

  • Coder Boycott (Score:5, Interesting)

    by RichMan (8097) on Friday May 09, 2014 @01:11PM (#46960679)

    Ok this ruling would seem to invalidate any ability to reproduce any interface.

    This needs a coder boycott of anything Oracle until Oracle stands up and pubclically disavows this ruling and claims the court was wrong.

    • This needs a coder boycott of anything Oracle until Oracle stands up and pubclically disavows this ruling and claims the court was wrong.

      Hey, I've been boycotting Oracle for the last decade on grounds that their software is garbage! Count me in!

  • by HeckRuler (1369601) on Friday May 09, 2014 @01:14PM (#46960705)

    API calls.... their "structure, sequence, and organization" are copyrightable? API calls... really?

    So I have a door, it has a door bell. It follows a nice standard that if someone wants to get my attention at my door, they ring the doorbell. If they want to leave a message, they put a note in my mailbox. That's a rough equivalent for my house's API. I can copyright that (baring prior art and fair use)?
    The contents of my house are my own of course, but the procedure I ask everyone to follow when coming into my house? I also own that?

    Really guys?

    • IIRC, one of the permitted exceptions to copyright is interfaces. You need to be able to copy interfaces to produce code that's compatible with existing code, and that's why interfaces can't be copyrighted.

      This is what happens when you have non-technical lawyers and judges trying to rule on technical matters.
    • If you write down that sequence, then yes, it's copyrightable. Heck, even a scribble on a piece of paper is copyrightable.

      CAVEAT: Other people may be able to use it under fair use, and in fact, they probably can.
    • by gnupun (752725)

      So I have a door, it has a door bell. It follows a nice standard that if someone wants to get my attention at my door, they ring the doorbell. If they want to leave a message, they put a note in my mailbox. That's a rough equivalent for my house's API. I can copyright that (baring prior art and fair use)?

      You seem to be describing a patent. To do copyright infringement of somebody else's door, you would have to use the same material of wood, the same color, the same design, and an exact duplicate of the knob

    • by dfsmith (960400) on Friday May 09, 2014 @03:15PM (#46961799) Homepage Journal

      As I read it*, the argument is over the 37 verbatim copied headers that define the API. That's like Oracle making a beautiful (ahem), elaborate sign explaining how to ring their doorbell. Google made their own doorbell but copied the sign, embellishments included. While the content of the sign is "fact", the decorations are arguably product of a creative process.

      While I'll have to wait for better analyses of the ruling, I think we can take away that if you're reimplementing a library, you might want to reimplement the headers too.

      * IANAL, and I'm not speaking for my employer. I only scanned the ruling.

      • That.... actually makes a bit of sense and I understand how a judge could see it that way.

        So if Google wants their fork to interface just like Oracles, they should take a clean-room approach and have all the API's function exactly the same way, but without being derived from Oracle's source.

        And they have to function EXACTLY like the one they're copying. That's the entire point of using a standard API. If that aspect is copyrightable, the content of the API of how things interface to other things, then this

      • by k8to (9046)

        There have already been rulings that decided that headers that define a public api are not under copyright if they represent the only way that that public api can be declared.

        In other words, this judge did not follow precedent, or they're in different jurisdictions (I don't actually know).

  • by tomhath (637240) on Friday May 09, 2014 @01:16PM (#46960719)

    Federal Circuit Judge Kathleen O'Malley wrote. "On this record, however, we find that the district court failed to distinguish between the threshold question of what is copyrightable — which presents a low bar — and the scope of conduct that constitutes infringing activity."

    Does this mean that even though Oracle can copyright something (not sure what), Google might still be able to use it without infringing? That's what it sounds like to me. And it took a whole lot of wasted money for Oracle to barely make it over the "low bar".

  • Results (Score:5, Informative)

    by phantomfive (622387) on Friday May 09, 2014 @01:18PM (#46960749) Journal
    In the original trial, the jury found that Google had infringed on the Java API (37 API packages including the declaring code and the structure, sequence, and organization). Shortly thereafter, the judge ruled that those things were not copyrightable, thus Google didn't need to pay.

    Now, the appeals court has reversed that, and said that those things are copyrightable.

    Because the original jury was deadlocked on the question of whether Google's copying was fair use, it needs to go back to trial. But only the fair use will be considered in that trial, not copyrightability.
  • So at this rate I assume we'll get an appeal to the technologically illiterate supreme court and virtually all code written will violate someone else's copyright.
  • by Stormy Dragon (800799) on Friday May 09, 2014 @01:39PM (#46960963) Homepage

    I don't get why Oracle bothered to buy Sun since they seem to be systematically destroying the value of everything they got from the purchase.

    • The trouble is when you're left without viable alternatives they can pretty much crap on whatever they choose and you have to eat it. Even if you were so fortunate to get the opportunity for "green field" implementations your choices are next to non-existent if your requirements made Java the primary choice in the first place. You cannot simply say "screw Oracle, I'll use C++", or "screw Oracle, I'll use C#", "... Ruby", "... Python", "...".
    • by jafac (1449)

      Most of these acquisitions are really about marketshare, and killing-off competition. When there is market-overlap, the purchasing company is buying that marketshare - and a certain percentage of those customers will abandon it; but some will stay. The abandoners will not likely go to a single (biggest) competitor, but often be scattered, which makes the purchasing player stronger as top-dog. When there is no overlap, it's usually for the purpose of keeping other companies who are nearby in the marketpla

  • How 'bout a completely open-source fork?
  • by reg (5428) <reg@freebsd.org> on Friday May 09, 2014 @01:55PM (#46961107) Homepage

    This is a very bad decision and is only going to harm the software industry. This is Google's fault for using the wrong arguments. APIs are digital forms. You fill one in and give it to a worker, it does what you asked (possibly with side effects) and returns results. This is not an analogy, it is a fact. Forms are not copyrightable, for good reason. Imagine if every bank had to make up a new name for a 'deposit slip', and someone could copyright "First Name, Last Name" on a form! Google copied Java's API, the same as businesses have been copying each others forms since the dawn of time, and for the same reason: its easier to present a known interface to customers.

    Regards,
    -Jeremy

  • How far does this copyrightability of APIs go? If I write a program in Java, am I infringing?

    Collections.unmodifiableList( Collections.sort( new ArrayList(){{add(String.valueOf(Math.pow(3,9)));add(String.valueOf(Math.pow(3,6)));}}));

    Is that enough copying of their API to trigger copyright? If it is, then this ruling means we have to stop all software development, sort this out, then start again once we understand the license terms of every language. If this duplication of their API is not potentially infrin

  • by Anon E. Muss (808473) on Friday May 09, 2014 @02:49PM (#46961597)

    (I actually read the court ruling before posting this)

    tl;dr version: The results will likely be awful, but the decision appears legally correct.

    Google won at trial because the judge decided that the Java API was not copyrightable. I absolutely believe that API's should not be copyrightable, but that isn't what the law says. Copyrightability has a very low threshold. The trial judge screwed up by applying legal standards related to fair use to the question of copyrightability. The appeals court was correct to reverse.

    The case now goes back to the district court. There will be a new trail with a new jury, but the only issue will be whether Googe's copying of the Java API is fair use. The original jury deadlocked on this question. Fair use decisions are very subjective, so it's hard to predict how this will turn out. All I can say is that I hope Google wins.

    P.S. None of this decision was related to patents. Oracle lost on their patent claims at trial, and that stands.

    • by Garfong (1815272)

      It kind of looks like the appeal court decision is setting this up for a potential appeal to the Supreme Court. The decision repeatedly talks about differences and conflicting rulings between different Circuits, which is one of the things the Supreme Court looks for when deciding whether to approve an apeal.

  • by StormReaver (59959) on Friday May 09, 2014 @02:49PM (#46961601)

    If this ruling doesn't get struck on appeal, IBM's lawyers should be drooling oceans as they warm up to sue Oracle for copyright infringement on SQL. Oracle owes IBM many billions of dollars in infringement, by Oracle's own logic.

    This is yet another judge that is completely incompetent for the job.

  • Make the rules.

    Thankfully both of these companies have lots of it, so it should continue to be an interesting ( and scary, due to its far reaching ramifications ) battle.

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