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Oracle vs Google: Copyright Claims Must Remain 166

swandives writes "More in the Oracle/Google patent infringement saga. Oracle says no court has ever found that APIs for software like Java are ineligible for copyright protection. The claims were made in its objection to Google's request that the court make a summary judgment on Oracle's copyright allegations. In early August, Google asked the judge to rule that Google doesn't infringe Oracle copyright in its implementation of Android. In an objection to that request, Oracle asked the judge to let the charge go to trial. Earlier, Judge Alsup denied Google's attempt to get a potentially damaging e-mail redacted. Looks like this one could take a while."
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Oracle vs Google: Copyright Claims Must Remain

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  • What does this mean for the future of Java users and developers ? will we be oracle's bitches ?

    i would like to let anyone know that i wont, if it comes to that.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Well, Java was a nice language while it lasted.

    • This is the copyright law equivalent to giving WOPR the launch codes. If a court rules that a company can own an API, then everybody's software becomes infringing!

      • No, everybody who implements a compatible library or creates there own/ships header files would be infringing.

      • by jc42 ( 318812 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2011 @07:34PM (#37186032) Homepage Journal

        If a court rules that a company can own an API, then everybody's software becomes infringing!

        This isn't a new concern. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, I worked (as a "consultant") on a number of projects at Digital. One of the discussions that came up occasionally was why DEC's unix systems were all based on BSD, and not Sys/V. It was well-known that DEC had Sys/V running on their hardware internally, but for some reason they didn't want to sell it.

        The explanation that came up every time was that the Digital lawyers had nixed the use of Sys/V and other AT&T code for the same reason that we're discussing now: The run-time libraries all contained AT&T copyright notices in every routine, so if you linked to those libraries, your binaries would contain AT&T copyright notices. This included libc, so pretty much all binaries produced on Sys/V contained lots of AT&T copyright notices. There was a very good chance that AT&T would have a legal claim on any software that contained those copyright notices.

        The lawyers apparently did point out that the status of these copyright claims in binaries was a legal "gray area" that had never been properly tested in the courts. Their professional legal advice was to let someone else be the sucker^H^H^H^H^H^Hguinea pig who paid the legal fees to fight AT&T on the issue. Until that was decided, using AT&T binary libraries was legally too risky, and since the BSD libraries were not such a legal threat, DEC should stick with BSD, which did the job just fine.

        Disclaimer: I never personally talked to any of these purported DEC lawyers to verify this story. But it was widely believed by all the DEC insiders that I talked to. I'd imagine that the same sort of discussions must be going on inside a lot of current companies with respect to java. I'd also guess that a lot of companies lawyers are advising that their clients minimize the use of java until the courts sort out the legal issues, just to be on the safe side. Why risk your company's profits on a language that may be legally incumbered in ways that are unknowable today, when there are similar languages (python, perl, etc.) that the geeks say are just as good and are legally safe to use..

        (Yeah, I know I'm risking a language flame war by that last comment. Hopefully the mods here will mark them OT. ;-)

  • by Microlith ( 54737 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2011 @03:25PM (#37183640)

    Why the hell should an API, the computer equivalent of a phone number, qualify for copyright protection?

    Implementation behind those, yes. The actual API itself? Well, I guess it's a great end-run against 3rd party reimplementations...

    • There are books on good api design, if you read one of them you will see that there is a lot of creative works involved into the design of a pleasant*1 to use yet generic API, even more so if you want to stay backward compatible. I am pretty sure that a well designed API qualify as a copyrighted worked.

      1- Please ignore the Date class as they were young and did not know what persistent horror they unleashed upon the world.

      • Re:API? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by ZombieBraintrust ( 1685608 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2011 @03:43PM (#37183836)
        Java took the C++ api in part. Oracle is arguing that they themselves are commiting copyright infringement.
        • by jedidiah ( 1196 )

          ...and this here is why copyrights on APIs are a really stupid idea.

          The people that came up with this gem must be "code illiterate" for not realizing the broader implications of their idea.

          • Ofcourse they don't. If they do succeed, then a crapload of their own software will be considered derivative from LGPL! Oh and I would love to see them defend their own hypocrisy...
        • I find the STL and the Java standard class library to be quite different.
          Ignoring the alien syntax, Java took more from Smalltalk than they did from C++....

          To use a book about car analogy, it like reading a book about combustion engine in English and another book about the same subject written by a different author in German.

          • If the book has the same layout of chapters, follows with the same progression of descriptions paragraph by paragraph, it is a plagiarism and copyright infringement. Neither translation to a different language nor rewording of paragraphs of the book while retaining the same information in the same (non-obvious) order are releasing you from the burden of copyright.


      • I have designed APIs - it's still a part of my daily job. Yes, it's not something that's easy to do, but I wouldn't say that it's particularly creative, especially for non-novel things (which 99% of Java class library is).

        That said, IMO, interoperability here should trump copyright in any case. Copyrighting APIs has a significant negative effect on everyone in the market, because it encourages lock-in, and thereby hinders fair competition.

        • I agree with you on:

          interoperability here should trump copyright in any case. Copyrighting APIs has a significant negative effect on everyone in the market, because it encourages lock-in, and thereby hinders fair competition.

          But that should be written in the laws if it is not already written.

        • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

          That said, IMO, interoperability here should trump copyright in any case.

          In the EU it does. Making a compatible interface is specifically allowed by law. I'm surprised there is no such provision in US law because it allows companies to monopolise and prevent others from competing with them.

      • In germany, and I believe in all EU (europe) APIs and "database layout" are explicitly exempt from "copyright".

        Looking at projects like "GNU claspath" the logical assumption is that this is also true for the USA.

        An API is like the "mains power" supply in a house. The connector can't be under "copyright" or no one would be able to connect his electric power consuming device with a reasonable price to the grid.


        • you have sane laws... especially the law on beer purity ;)

          here, in Canada, i am not so sure anymore, and in the USA they have fucked up laws!

          • by vranash ( 594439 )
            And Germany still has those 'hacking tools' laws covering nmap, nessus and such, correct? I've been having a hard time (for about ten years now!) finding somewhere worth emigrating to that doesn't have some fscked laws that remove them from my list of potential candidates. Sad really, because every year seems to find the US falling further and further into insanity (as it has been since I was in High School, at least. 9/11 changed everything? No, Columbine changed everything.) Where's my pacifier? This IS
            • Yes unfortunately there are laws regarding "hacking tools", however I don't know which tools are covert by it. Very likely tools like nmap, that are installed by the vendors by default are excluded ;D
              In fact those laws are in general ignored. I'm working right now as sysadmin ... in a bank, that is. I'm not responsible for security stuff, however I have a brought overview of the network ... and surely we use *everything* available to test, monitor, investigate our network.

              • by vranash ( 594439 )
                Good to know! That happened to be my biggest disincentive to looking at Germany. The other hurdle being to get my car legalized so I could take it with me, and then out to Nurburgring :)
                • What kind of car do you have? I would asume a "standard" car only needs to visit "TÃoeF" to check its condition and then you register it to get the license plate. However if you have tinkered with it, you might have more work with the TÃoeF or if you have a british car with the steering wheel "on the wrong side" perhaps you can not register it (no idea ;D)

                  • by vranash ( 594439 )
                    Nah just a basic left hand drive car. And I already had read up some on the rules regarding modified vehicles and conditional use permits (IE you can have a street legal car with slicks but it's only legal to drive in dry conditions.). And actually compared to the euro spec model, mine was downtuned for the US market (Euro model was specced for a higher top speed on the Autobahn and related European roads, while the US model was specced for better low end torque.)
    • Uhm... an API is much more than a phone number. I think equating those two is ridiculous. An API is a huge set of interfaces with specific names and behaviors. A better analogy would be a phone book -- but one that you created from scratch and wasn't based on any public information.

      The real point, in my opinion, is whether Oracle *protected* their copyright to the API. It seems to me that Sun/Oracle treated the API more-or-less like it was public domain. I never accepted an agreement that stated I o
      • An API is a huge set of interfaces with specific names and behaviors

        And you can copyright the implementation of those APIs, and the shiny books that document them. But the APIs themselves cannot sanely be copyrighted (being arbitrary identifiers with specific parameters and expected outputs) otherwise reverse engineering of ALL kinds (WINE, etc.) would be illegal.

        • You can also copyright header files that define these APIs. And the files would "enjoy" the same protection as books and such - mere renaming of everything, shuffling the order around or changing comments, without actually breaking the gist - the underlying concept - will be recognized as plagiarism. As long as your file does, every single thing the original file does, you're clearly in the black.

          This is bad. Oracle has a solid point here.
          Of course asserting copyright on API is both extremely stupid and ext

          • You can also copyright header files that define these APIs. And the files would "enjoy" the same protection as books and such - mere renaming of everything, shuffling the order around or changing comments, without actually breaking the gist - the underlying concept - will be recognized as plagiarism.

            This is the crux of the issue. My understanding (and I guess also Google's understanding) of copyright law is that the copyright is only for the "creative" element of the work, and explicitly excludes things required for interoperability.

            So if you take out all the comments, organize the remaining header in a completely non-creative way (ie. sorted by subject area, and then alphabetically), and remove any lingering "private" parts that aren't strictly part of the API, what remains should not be subject to c

            • That's a good insight, and the previous mention of phone numbers is also useful.

              Feist Publications, Inc., v. Rural Telephone Service Co. [wikipedia.org]: the actual phone numbers in a telephone book are not copyrightable, but are rather mere facts, and therefore can be copied into another phone book without infringement. Structurally, this smells like the whole API signature thing to me.

              Along the same lines, a cookbook is copyrightable, as a creative assembly; the individual recipes aren't, if the "copy" of the recipe exp

            • This would be true for a very straightforward, simplistic API: initialize(), a whole bunch of very simple tool functions, some kind of flush() and optionally end().

              But if the API suggests use of some clever design pattern, if it operates on original abstract ideas, has some automagic features that cleverly work around the language's shortcomings, expands the language syntax (e.g. through clever use of templates), cleverly automates or streamlines tasks that would have to be called in sequence - generally, g

      • You cant' copyright the behavior of a computer function. It's not in a fixed medium. Patents may be on some behaviors, but not a copyright. A name is not copyright-able either. If you invent the word giblywonk to describe the sound a mediocre metal band makes while practicing drunk and stoned and I then trow ten tom cats and a howler monky in a metal garbage can and beat on the lid with a baseball bat, there's no reason I can't use the word giblywonk to describe that sound I just made, as for all practical
    • I believe you're not thinking this properly. An API is a piece of software, just as any other. Given the current state of affairs, why shoulnd't it be subject of copyright? Perhaps you're thinking "But an API is only an Java interface, no implementation!" I say: so? Even if it an API was so simple (it's not; it includes input/ouput parameters, exceptions, a usage definition, documentation, and so on), why would the simplicity of something prevent it from being subject of copyright? Hint: comparisons with on

      • by shugah ( 881805 )
        APIs are a 2-way street. You publish an API and distribute header files as part of an SDK, you make it easy for third party application developers to develop applications for your platform. It also makes it rather straight forward for another platform developer to emulate your API so that those same 3rd party apps, written to your API can be run on their platform. In the case of Java, Sun/Oracle also released and distributed the API and the whole JVM source code under a GPL license. So this made emulatio
    • by msauve ( 701917 )
      It's more like claiming copyright on the individual words one used to write a creative story.

      Computer languages should not be copyrightable, because copyright requires that the work be fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Just as individual words can be taken from one work and rearranged to create a wholly separate, noninfringing one, so too should computer language grammar, syntax, keywords, etc. be available for others to reuse.

      If Oracle claims copyright over individual Java language elements, rega
    • by Animats ( 122034 )

      Why the hell should an API, the computer equivalent of a phone number, qualify for copyright protection?

      An API is not the "equivalent of a phone number". Not even close. It's clearly a creative work. The question is whether it is too abstract to be protected by copyright. "Copyright protection is not available for ideas, program logic, algorithms, systems, methods, concepts, or layouts.", says the Copyright Office. It might be patentable, if sufficiently original, but that's not an issue here.

      Copyright in fictional characters [publaw.com] has been tried, occasionally with success. That's one of the broadest forms of cop

      • An API is just a list of function prototypes and the type definitions they depend on. The only reason function names are required is that so far there isn't a general semantic langauge that specifies (simply, and with clarity) the preconditions and postconditions of the functions, so the linker needs a way to bind calls to the appropriate functions instead of just pattern matching based on formal semantics.

        If "type_1 function_name_1(type_2, type_3, type_4, type_5) ..." is your idea of copyrightable conte
  • Mitel, Inc. v. Iqtel, Inc. 10th Circ., 1997 In this case, the court found for the , saying that (1) menu structure of a computer program was an uncopyrightable process under 102(b), that (2) there was a merger between its idea and the limited number of ways in which it could be expressed, and that (3) the work lacked originality. It lacked originality because the command codes comprised a method of achieving a certain result based on call controller’s functions, the carrier’s technical demands,
  • If APIs are found to be protected under copyright, won't this mean something like Mono C# violates copyright as well?

    And what about a DirectX emulator for Linux for example?

    This doesn't sound right. These 3rd party APIs are, to me at least, the software equivalent of reverse engineering. Figuring out how the original works by providing emulation. This should be protected behavior or else it will be easier for companies to inadvertently gain new monopolies...

    • What about Java itself. Seem pretty similer to C to me.
    • If APIs are found to be protected under copyright, won't this mean something like Mono C# violates copyright as well?

      The court didn't say "APIs are protected by copyright". The court said "there is no rule that APIs are never protected by copyright, therefore Google's request for summary judgement is rejected. The court will have to examine Oracle's APIs and then make a decision whether that particular API is copyright protected or not".

      It will depend on the amount of creativity that went into writing the API. Now writing a good API is hard work and greatly appreciated, but that doesn't mean the author should be creati

      • I don't think the court has said anything yet. The above is Oracles argument against summary judgement. It is not the courts statement.
    • That doesn't make any sense to me. If I have perfect pitch and reverse engineered a song and performed it, such and act wouldn't get me around copyright issues. In fact I would be in a better position if the composer had freely given my a copy of his scoresheet instead. API's are really more like a list of word making up the language a computer program "speaks".
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Its just that courts don't do abstraction - look at the wiki for the Borland vs. Lotus case -

    "The court also considered the impact of their decision on users of software. If menu hierarchies were copyrightable, users would be required to learn how to perform the same operation in a different way for every program, which the court finds "absurd." Additionally, all macros would have to be re-written for each different program, which places an undue burden on users.[4]"

    A reasonable ruling in this case would be

  • Oracle says no court has ever found that APIs for software like Java are ineligible for copyright protection.

    That's not the issue here. No body ever said APIs for software like Java are ineligible for copyright protection.

    There are precedents in matters of law. This could be well be one of them. Oracle should know better.

    I even have concerns about Oracle's confusing statements about Java. Java can mean the language, the VM or the libraries associated with it or even the combination of everything I have mentioned.

    When Oracle says, "Google Chooses To Base Its Android Platform On Java Without Taking A License", one w

    • If api headers and primatives are "copyrighted", and "derivative works" are prosecuted under copyright law (how do you prove your implementation of Free() is not a derivative work of the oracle java implementation?) Then making use of the language (you DO have a valid license to read and replicate the API calls, right?) could well require draconian contract law to undertake.

      What I would see come out of this is a creative commons based comminuty api set (probably based on other languages) released by the FSF

  • If Oracle is proposing that the APIs are copyright protected, then what about their use of the C APIs that they publish with their Oracle database? Would that not be an infringement of AT&T's copyrights? Likewise, Oracle software uses and provides hooks for various Windows APIs. Does that mean Oracle owes royalties to Microsoft?

  • by Pop69 ( 700500 ) <billyNO@SPAMbenarty.co.uk> on Tuesday August 23, 2011 @04:30PM (#37184330) Homepage
    Oracle have asked the court to rule that the copyright claim should remain.

    It's a standard reply brief, nothing to see here until the court make a ruling.
  • No wonder I see more and more requests for Python instead of Java. Oracle's policy of feuding with everybody including their friends is making Python a more and more attractive alternative.
  • I seem to recall something about user interfaces not being copyrightable a la the old Excel/Lotus 1-2-3 case?
  • Didn't the court rule that it was legal for Bleem to replicate the Playstation APIs?

  • Here is a quote from the article;
    '"This case is not about Google creating a compatible platform. It is about Google picking and choosing some Java APIs, but not others, knowing it would create an incompatible platform," it wrote.

    Also, Oracle noted that Google itself essentially asserts copyright on its own software. "Notably, Google requires its OEMs to maintain the full set of Android APIs -- including the 37 APIs it copied from Oracle to prevent fragmentation of the Android platform," it wrote. Android's

  • "Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed." straight from http://www.copyright.gov/help/faq/faq-general.html [copyright.gov]

    Now I'm not a lawyer, but it was always my understanding that copyright doesn't protect APIs for that reason. An API is really a statement of facts. Now a specific header -might- be covered by copyright and a specific source file (implementation) can definitely be covered by copyright. The API itself though

To iterate is human, to recurse, divine. -- Robert Heller