back to article Oracle v Google could clear way for copyright on languages, APIs

Computer languages and software interfaces may fall under copyright protection if Oracle succeeds in its Java lawsuit against Google. Amazingly, "copyfighters" appear to have paid little or no notice to this rare extension of copyright into new realms. But the consequences and costs for the software industry could be enormous …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Get rid of java

    No unsigned types, what a joke.

    1. JDX Gold badge

      Re: Get rid of java

      Unsigned types are a side-effect of how the underlying hardware works, a high-level language which is abstracted from that has no conceptual need for them.

      1. Paul Shirley


        No. signed/unsigned is a programmers choice of what bundles of bits mean. I've found describing 8 bit bundles as unsigned values is usually pretty damn useful.

        That a high level language imposes arbitrary limitations on how a programmer should be thinking is the Java disease. Simplified for idiots only sounds like a good idea.

        1. dr2chase

          If you need unsigned in Java

          If you need unsigned, there are libraries that provide it. I wrote one years ago, and I am pretty sure it is BSD-licensed. I'd be surprised if I was the only person to do so.

          Main thing to note is that there is no difference in the bit-pattern behavior between 2s-complement signed + and unsigned + at the word length. The trick comes in describing the operations that are not punned -- comparisons, division, widening multiplication, conversion to/from float and string.

          The other half of the trick is to be sure to use idioms (where you can) that will be recognized by an optimizing JIT as equivalent to the unsigned operations. That probably works for comparisons, but not for the others.

          I also wrote a library for packing and unpacking bytes and shorts into ints and longs, not sure whether we released that or not.

      2. Asgard

        @"no conceptual need for " ... Negative numbers?!

        @"no conceptual need for them."

        Imagine trying to tell that to all the mathematicians throughout the past 2000 years and then see if you can't find any "conceptual need for them"!.

        Just because Java chooses to omit them, doesn't mean there is no conceptual need for them! ... Negative integers are very useful and fundamental in many areas of work and its a total fuck up design flaw that the only way a language can support something so fundamental is via a library which slows its performance down. But then a lot of Java developers don't believe in thinking about performance either, so in their narrow myopic mind, there is no conceptual need for them. Try opening your mind and find conceptual needs for them, because if you don't others will and they will beat you in a competitive job marketplace.

        But if you want to remain close minded and refuse to see what I'm saying, we can at least just console ourselves that there is one less competitor in the job market than we thought. But I find I can't shake off the despair I feel at some people's closed mindedness!

        1. vic 4

          Re: @"no conceptual need for " ... Negative numbers?!

          Think you are misreading that, of course java supports negative number. It doesn't however have _UN_signed integer types

        2. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Thumb Down

      Re: Get rid of java

      Go back to /b

    3. Rich 2 Silver badge

      Re: Get rid of java

      Does Java support enumerations now? The last time I played with it (ooo... 10+ years ago?), you had to use some crazy structure to 'simulate' an enumeration. And I agree; lack of unsigned is just plain stupid and indicative of the half-baked lanhuage that Java is. Oh, and while you're at it, no multiple inheritance (I like to throw that one in because it seems I'm the only person in the world that thinks multiple inheritance can be useful). Java is also responsible for breeding a whole generation of third-rate softies who's idea of efficient and small is "it runs ok(ish) on a 3GHz quad core monster", and "it's smaller than 500MB" respectively.

      And on a completely different tack, as far as I know (and apparently well illustrated by recent events), Java still isn't completely "free" and many people have been warning for years of the potential for the mess that we're now witnessing in the latest Oracle/Google spat. But, of course, many more people have chosen not to listen

      Ok, rant over.

      1. vic 4

        Re: no multiple inheritance

        "I like to throw that one in because it seems I'm the only person in the world"

        Not the only one, but pretty sure you are in the minority. Try repeating the folloing mantra 10x a day, "composition, not inheritance"

  2. g e

    I think I see where they're going

    Couldn't get a patent on that process but I own the copyright so I'm still entitled to some monetary relief from your use of it.

    It's the ultimate trolling tool they're trying to get written into law.

  3. James Hughes 1

    I disagree

    That Google should have licenced Java.

    They wrote a clean room implementation. It's all language or API's. They should not be copyrightable or patentable for reasons given in the article. Therefore there is no need to licence ' Java'.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    No precedent for programming language copyright?

    Anyone sufficiently long in the tooth to have programmed Intel and Zilog 8-bit microprocessors in assembly language will remember that Zilog were forbidden from using the same instruction mnemonics as Intel because Intel had claimed copyright on theirs. By extension, it should be possible to copyright a programming language, but maybe only as long as the reserved words it used were original inventions and not taken from a pre-existing language.

    1. Thomas 18
      Thumb Down

      RE: No precedent for programming language copyright?

      "Claiming copyright" and having a judge make a ruling on a case are quite different.

    2. JimmyPage Silver badge

      Re: No precedent for programming language copyright?

      BUT, IIRC, the Z80 was completely compatible at the *binary* level with the 8085. So much so, that I was able to take a project I wrote for an 8085 at Uni, and load it into a Spectrum (using a self-written Hex editor) and it worked perfectly.

      1. Steve Crook

        Re: No precedent for programming language copyright?

        Hex editor? Isn't that something witches use?

    3. Franklin
      Thumb Up

      Re: No precedent for programming language copyright?

      "Anyone sufficiently long in the tooth to have programmed Intel and Zilog 8-bit microprocessors in assembly language will remember that Zilog were forbidden from using the same instruction mnemonics as Intel because Intel had claimed copyright on theirs."

      And Zilog's made more sense. But I digress.

  5. Eugene Crosser


    It's always entertaining and educational to hear the argument of the opposition, but it is no longer fun if the author starts to make unfounded claims.

    "without protection for authors the economic incentive to create disappears"

    -- not true. There are other economic incentives for creation besides being able to sell the product. One of the incentives disappears, right, but not "the economic incentive"

    "In recent years, a strangely zealous campaign against patent protection for software has been successful"

    -- not true. In recent years, the law practice with regard to patent-protecting software has been shifting in the direction opposite to what the "campaign against patent protection for software" is advocating.

  6. Bakunin

    The great land grab of the 21st century

    So lets carve up every idea, every advancement and every concept into money making parcels. Lets pin down any future development under the weight of contracts and limited licenses and royalty fees for usage. Why stop at programming languages when there are so many other abstract ideas you could horde and sell.

    But while you're doing it don't look behind the curtain. You might notice the earlier generations of engineers and scientist that built the giant shoulders your product stands on. Who designed the networks and concepts that got you where you are today.

    And if that happened, then you might have to feel just a little guilty about lining your pockets off their backs.

    [Needless to say this sort of thing just p***es me off.]

    1. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: The great land grab of the 21st century

      Bakunin. Collectivist anarchism. Nobody owns anything, good will prevails.

      Remind me again: how well has that worked out?

      1. Bakunin

        Re: The great land grab of the 21st century

        Andrew. I hate to break it to you, but I’m not *actually* Bakunin. Unless the El Reg forums are known for being haunted by long dead bearded revolutionaries? A few banshees and trolls maybe.

        I’ve had lunch now so I’ll take off my grumpy old man hat. But I stand by the sentiment of my previous post.

      2. Colin Millar

        Re: The great land grab of the 21st century

        Well - to be fair to Bakunin it never really got tested anywhere - except maybe some bits of Barcelona - and it's failure there wasn't really down to systemic failure of the theory. On the realistic hand - it was complete bonkers.

        It seems to me that the idea of copyrighting a language or any of its derivatives is also bonkers - what is the point of a language where the use of expressive techniques is controlled? And APIs and libraries cannot surely be considered as anything more than expresive techniques - not processes in their own right? I can see that patenting a language might be a valid route in the current legal frameworks but I doubt that anyone would ever use it.

        1. david wilson

          Re: The great land grab of the 21st century

          >>"It seems to me that the idea of copyrighting a language or any of its derivatives is also bonkers - what is the point of a language where the use of expressive techniques is controlled? "

          Maybe there might be situations where it would make some sense, but at the very least, if there is going to be copyright or patent control exercised, it should be something that's made crystal clear from the start, not something that can bite someone years or decades later.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The great land grab of the 21st century

        I vaguely remember it worked rather well. It was only really attempted in the Spanish Revolution, wasn't it? It's biggest problem was interfacing with outside influences.

      4. Anonymous Coward

        Re: The great land grab of the 21st century

        Remind me again, Andrew: when did we try it?

      5. PyLETS

        Re: The great land grab of the 21st century

        Some property has to be public. Not having to pay to go out into the street outside your dwelling, because it is a public road and isn't a toll road, is a requirement in order to have markets in things other than road provision.

        Some property has to be private. Nobody likes sharing toothbrushes.

        Where your preferred society chooses to create the dividing line will determine how much rent seeking activity is permitted, and how much competition you will get.

        Generally, with some notable exceptions, monopolies are considered a bad thing and copyright is a monopoly. That's OK to the extent granting this monopoly causes work to be done that otherwise wouldn't be done, but if copyright goes further than that, such law can't enable as much value to be created as it could otherwise.

        Another example of where reasonable social policy encourages an artificial monopoly is that a package below a certain price can be posted to any UK address for the same price. Both the postal package delivery monopoly below a defined price and the policy to have a public road monopoly encourages communications without which open competitive markets could not exist.

      6. P. Lee

        Re: The great land grab of the 21st century

        Someone managed to invent the wheel without charging royalties for the idea.

        Plenty of "work" can be done and given away for free because it is inherently useful to the worker. This is true for tools, but also for some consumer goods.

        Perhaps your of the opinion that linux is a communist cancer? There it is, given away for free? Does it hurt MS? Certainly. But MS's hurt is another company's gain. Every time you install something you got for free, you gain the value the item for zero cost. When I say "value of the item" I mean "value of the item for you," not the sticker price which is an arbitrary cost, not related to its value. That could be thousands of £s for a server farm in a bank, or it could be a negative value for pirating a really bad movie you wished you hadn't seen.

        On the consumer goods side, if I buy a beautiful car, I can give away value by allowing others to look at it and enjoy its beauty. I don't need to give away the car itself and I don't need to charge others to look at the car. It isn't anarchy or communism.

        And it works very well, thank-you.

        Nice troll though.

    2. The Fuzzy Wotnot
      Thumb Up

      Re: The great land grab of the 21st century

      "generations of engineers and scientist that built the giant shoulders your product stands on"

      Yep that would be Larry and his mates within the fledgling Oracle Corp ( called Relational Inc or something? ) "nicking" ideas from both Ed Codd and IBM's System R to get their RDBMS product off the ground!

    3. M Gale

      Re: Andrew

      What pisses me off isn't copyright. If somebody wants to try and sell their new sparkly word processor at £500 a pop, I honestly couldn't give a damn. I might point and laugh at them a bit unless it really is worth every penny of that huge price, but it's hardly worth posting Angry Bloke comments on a web forum about.

      What pisses me off is using copyright or, lately, the even more broad patent concept to control just about everything you can about how people use their products that they bought from you. What pisses me off is after shelling out a shitload already on a decent computer, there's a tax to be paid to Microsoft if you want to use any kind of widely-available software. The continuous attempts to destroy rather than encourage interoperability by shackling every possible means to do so behind patent taxes and threats is a disease, and Oracle's behaviour towards Java on Android is yet another example of this. They didn't invent the language, they bought the business and then started trolling everyone.

      So remind me, just how well is this working out for us, Andrew?

    4. veti Silver badge

      Re: The great land grab of the 21st century

      Spot on: it's a land grab.

      And the best, the very best thing about it is, it doesn't involve any actual *land*.

      So up-and-coming, hungry young people and businesses can be allowed to control as much of it as they can get away with, and the richer, older people who own the actual land don't have to give up an inch of it. It's a way for the Establishment to co-opt people who might otherwise make trouble for them.

      It's no accident that the modern mania for "intellectual property" has coincided with the growth of inequality in our societies. One trend is providing cover for the other.

  7. Curious

    Google are using Dalvik because Oracle won't have anything suitable for mobile until Java 9 in 2015 or so.

    On the other hand, should Oracle win this, will their lawyers be meeting the IBM Nasgul in court in regard to their derivative version of IBM's SQL?

    And does Dennis Ritchie's estate now own the world?

  8. Boris Borcic

    Mindshare hoarding

    I feel the legal dispute ignores the real issue, which is the legal status of the "ownership" of developers mindshare and developers' personal investment in acquiring specialized skills. In the case of Java, the impressive mindshare was gained by first leveraging the business community's attention with HotJava (?) Sun's java-based browser that introduced responsive client-run applets in the context of the low bandwidth and high latencies of the web of the time. Developers mindshare is the only thing that Google appeared to "steal" with Dalvik. Applying copyright reasoning to the case is for the least confusing intellectual consumption (entertainment) with production (work).

  9. Steven Jones

    Legislative clarification anybody?

    It is surely time that there was some government involvement in clarifying the purpose of IPRs rather than leaving it to courts to interpret. It should be remembered that the granting of monopolies in the form of copyright, patents, trademarks and the like was (or at least should) be done where it is in the greater interests of society and some recognition of natural justice. However, where this is just being used as a tool for extending scope of market control and reduction of competition, this is questionable. Undoubtedly the increase in the use of IPRs on the part of (mostly) larger US corporations is towards the control of markets and the generation of local monopolies through lock-outs.

    It's about time a proper commission was put together to clarify these positions with the purpose of protecting the interests of the great majority and not those of major corporations seeking to generate areas immune from real competition.

    Of course this introduces huge international issues, but there's a good case for some economic blocs to take a more liberal view of IPR extent than and increasingly litigious US corporate sector. There are, of course, very different interpretations of the scope of patents in the EU for instance.

  10. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    "Intellectual property exists to encourage innovation"

    That's the mental disorder right there.

    It does NOT exist to encourage innovation. After all, if someone knew how to encourage innovation, we would be cruising the galaxy right in a Jetson two-seater by now. It exists to put a "NONE SHALL PASS" fence around someone's crap that he deems to fall under "IT'S ALL MINE, MINE!!", completely forgetting that he stands on the shoulders of all that worked before him and worked next to him.

    Just looking at how patents came to pass, how they metastasized into a daily dose of cancer and the historical evidence of the damaging effect on innovation tells the whole story.

    Copyrights have their use. But these too should be strongly curtailed. In particular, no control on grey imports, please.

    1. The Indomitable Gall

      Re: "Intellectual property exists to encourage innovation"

      There are people who are genuinely afraid to talk about their ideas for fear of having them nicked.

      I'm currently working on some language learning software, but I can't release any early public betas because there is no copyright protection on my ideas, and if someone with more time and money than me decided to reimplement my ideas, they would end up with a killer app and a first-to-market advantage. If software was patentable here (the UK) I'd have a prototype in the patent office this summer and a public beta started. It would then be easier for me to get critical mass to push to v1.0 and start earning the cash to support full-time development (and the hiring of a GUI designer -- not my strong point).

      That said, I'm against software patents on an ideological level, but to argue flat that IP protection does not encourage innovation is incorrect. It encourages ground-up innovation (such as it would in the case of my software) but in some ways it does discourage *incremental* innovation (eg if someone wanted to add an improved learning task to my software, they wouldn't be allowed to in a patented world).

      There's a balance to be struck. Neither "free-for-all" or "screwed down tight" offers the required protection or flexibility.

      1. Ben 25

        Re: "Intellectual property exists to encourage innovation"

        "I'm currently working on some language learning software, but I can't [patent] my ideas"

        Sure you can: patent a method of learning a language. That it can be implemented in software should be incidental. If the method cannot stand on its own merits then so-be-it.

        "It encourages ground-up innovation [...] but in some ways it does discourage *incremental* innovation"

        Don't flatter yourself. It's *all* incremental innovation (you've just not performed a patent search yet).

  11. xperroni

    The problem is...

    Google would have been happy to give money to Sun for a license to use Java the way they wanted, but Sun would have none of it; they'd only license JavaME (think of Mini Me, only not as effective) for use on handsets, not the full-blown JavaSE.

    So they came with a workaround where the programmer works in Java, but the handset does not: everything is translated to a different bytecode language prior to deployment, and runs on a non-Java VM.

    Actually I'm kind of surprised this point doesn't come up more often: it should be the crux of Google's defense, since it effectively means Java is only used on the desktop, on development time, and no Java IP makes it to the device.

    1. Keep Refrigerated

      Re: The problem is...

      Thanks for that insight, it clears a few things up.

      So am I to understand that a company that has no interest in making mobile phones or competing in that market, would not license what is essentially a free platform on desktop computer - but is now suing a company that has used it to create something brilliant that the original creators did not foresee or intend?

      JavaME licensing appears to be the crux of Oracle's vexatious litigation. Larry has noticed that ever more powerful smartphones make things like JavaME obsolete. As smartphones catch up and even surpass some desktops in power and functionality; it's only natural evolution that JavaSE would be desired over something that belongs in a museum.

      The real question here should be "what is a computer?" The smartphone in my pocket is now more powerful and functional than several previous desktop and laptop computers I have owned in the past.

      Is it the ability to make calls and SMS? Both laptops and desktops are now capable of that - though they are not as convenient to carry around.

      1. Tom 13

        Re: So am I to understand that a company...

        Actually, no and therein lies the crux of the current issue. It wasn't one company, it is two with a transfer of IP from one to the other, with the second taking a very different view of how to use and leverage the IP.

        The first company mostly liked the idea of the open commons, but not quite enough to put it fully in the open commons like Linux or BSD. They kept one part of it to themselves, even though they granted free licenses to use it. The second company looked at it and said "ooooH! We can makes lots of money! Particularly from those damn fools who never got a license from our predecessor and now dominate the mobile phone market."

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Intellectual property exists to encourage innovation"

    Isn't that an oxymoron?

  13. Tom 7

    A google engineer privately admitted..

    so not a lawyer who knew what he was talking about and well after the event.

    About as relevant legally as my opinion here.

  14. Tchou

    Exceptional move from Oracle

    Java is loosing grounds for years.

    Patenting it will just kill it sooner.

    Kudos for Oracle, i never liked Java!

    1. Turtle_Fan

      Re: Exceptional move from Oracle

      There is "losing" and there is "loosening", "loosing" is not a word.

      So either "losing" ground.... or "loosening" their grip on...

      1. Dogbyte

        Re: Exceptional move from Oracle

        Actually "loosing" is a word but it's usually only applied to fateful lightning from terrible swift swords.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Exceptional move from Oracle

        Loosing is a bit archaic but it's still a word.

        Loosening a noose allows one to breath, loosing it removes it completely.

      3. Steve Knox

        Actually "loosing" is a word...

        although not likely the intended word. But instead of loosing rivers of blood and bile about this online*, you could have just sat smug in the knowledge that you are slightly better at spelling than your average commentard.

        * italics taken directly from's all-too-relevant example on "loosing".

        1. crowley

          Re: Actually "loosing" is a word...

          Why sit smug, when you can inform people the details to tell the difference, have a slightly lower chance of encountering a jarring misspelling in the future, and feel good for helping to raise the average level of knowledge in society?

  15. Joseph Lord

    I'm quite torn but I think it is best that compatible APIs are permitted

    I disagree with AO about it being the anti-IP crowd's fault that this API's may be copyrighted. [For the record I am in favour of reduced copyright durations some other restrictions on the use of copyright to claim additional rights by means of required licenses for non-distributive licenses but am in favour of copyright in principle].

    Under copyright law I don't really see a strong reason that APIs should not be copyrightable. They are clearly creative expressions (good API design is challenging and there is definitely more than one way to do similar things).

    However if they are copyrighted that will make various anti-competitive lock-ins possible if people cannot create compatible platforms or even shims to translate from one API to another.

    Overall the public best interest is almost certainly served by allowing the creation of alternative implementations using the same API otherwise things like WINE would not be possible. It is a possible option that bad behaviour in this area could be prevented by anti-trust law but that generally seems both too slow and ineffective in many cases.

    Maybe the compromise could be that the API could be reverse engineered from existing programmes that people want to run in a clean room style without access to the original API/source code/documentation and that as this would be purely functional reimplementation rather than literal copying it should be legitimate where taking the original API documents could still be regarded as copyright infringement.

    I think Google clearly believed that they were taking shortcuts and not properly licensing technologies that they wanted to use is a bit of a case of whats ours is ours and whats yours is ours which seems to be a tendency for them. There was also no need to use Java/Dalvik for Android as they were not trying to make a completely compatible alternative to run existing software but they were trying to capitalise on the design/development/documentation and promotion effort of Sun for Java while clearly ignoring the available licensing programmes (partially because they didn't want to use the mobile profile). I hope that any side effects of Google losing this case (I suspect they will lose at least to some extent) won't have too big a negative impact going forwards.

  16. Paul Shirley

    "copyfighters" appear to have paid little or no notice

    Those of us following this case since the start understood what Oracle are up to the moment claims were filed. Many of us knew this attempt to extend copyright was coming the moment BS&F signed on to lawyer for Oracle - its exactly the same theory they pissed away 7 years and $30mil+ trying to put before a jury in the SCO vs IBM case. I posted about it here yesterday and many times before that.

    The other side of it is, we sat through 7 years of analysis in the SCO case and are confident existing precedent rules out Oracle/BS&F's new legal theory, it's why no-one's panicking *yet*. Warning for the clueless but not panicking. Having been assigned a well informed judge there seems little chance Oracle will BS their way to a catastrophic result.

    I suppose what really annoys Andrew is all that precedent in software copyright is the result of decades of *CORPORATE* copyright cases, not some shadowy conspiracy of 'copyfighters' fighting to undermine it. After all, FOSS relies on strong copyright to protect itself from both corporate and individual pirates but also understands there have to be limits or development becomes deadlocked.

  17. Captain Scarlet Silver badge

    Patented API's

    Might be me but I thought they forced MS with a crowbar to give out certain API details so (I am aware in most cases they are still hidden or the details provided are not actually very useful), does that mean they can sue anyone who uses it (Because I doubt MS wants anyone using any of their API's unless it makes them more money?

    **Below is where I am proved wrong and made to look silly**

    1. JimmyPage Silver badge

      Re: Patented API's

      I think you're referring to the antitrust case, which had nothing to do with patents or copyright, and everything to do with Microsoft trying to have it's cake and eat it. Basically MS were publishing one set of APIs, but then using additional "undocumented" or "unsupported" calls in IE, to make it part of the OS, and give them an unfair advantage over Netscape (as 'twas).

      1. Captain Scarlet Silver badge

        Re: Patented API's

        I should know that, damn thanks for correcting me

        *thumbs up

  18. Carl

    "could clear way"?

    And I "could" get hit in the head by a meteorite next time Im doing my teeth.

    APIs have as much chance of getting patented/copyrighted as they did when SCO tried the same trick with IBM eight years ago when they subsequently got their asses handed to them.

    ie None.

    And in any case, Oracle need to be careful about what they wish for.

    They made their $ on the back of someone else's query language.

  19. Is it me?

    Why do I get the Idea

    That the people fighting these cases know nothing about technology, and have probably never written a line of code in thier life.

  20. Mage Silver badge

    Computer languages and software interfaces may fall under copyright protection

    No, not may,

    They do. Everything created has copyright unless you put it in the public domain.

    1. Steve Knox

      Re: Computer languages and software interfaces may fall under copyright protection

      No, every original expression of an idea has copyright unless put in the public domain. (Well, that's the gist; there are all sorts of other factors that a copyright lawyer could explain to you if you had a year or two.)

      The general consensus seems to have been that the languages and the APIs are the ideas, not the expression. I'm not sure if I agree with that or not, but it's a valid argument that apparently hasn't yet been fully tested in court.

    2. Graham Dawson Silver badge

      Re: Computer languages and software interfaces may fall under copyright protection

      Look at it this way: who has the copyright on English?

      Nobody. And nobody will get it either, or any other spoken or written language, because it's a stupid idea to copyright language. Yet change the language to java and suddenly you seem to think it makes sense. Why? Both are frameworks for the expression of ideas. We could, if we wanted, hold conversations in Java or any other programming language, and we'd be able to express ideas and understand one another just as any other spoken language (with a little more difficulty and syntactical sugar, I suppose, but still).

      APIs and interfaces are like idiomatic, culturally shared shorthand for particular concepts that might be expressed in other, longer ways. They're the equivalent of a raised eyebrow at the sight of Orlowski arguing against copyrighting something or the exhalation of air that says so much about your mood, what you want, what you don't want, and just how stupid some people can be to believe idiocies that make no sense.

      Do you understand the problem with copyrighting language now?

      1. PyLETS

        Re: Computer languages and software interfaces may fall under copyright protection

        If the law allows copyrighting a language, it enables a private tax to be levied on all programs and expressions using that language. That's a massive restraint on trade.

        A narrower attempt at copyrighting was defeated in the automobile compatible parts market. There is only one way an exhaust pipe can sensibly route under a vehicle, based on the design of the underside of that vehicle. Giving control over the sale of compatible parts to the original manufacturer was considered an unreasonable restraint on competition in that space.

        Copyrighting an API would lead to a similar constraint on competition and without competition we all become poorer.

  21. Daf L

    This whole trial is flawed

    Oracle are completely clutching at straws with this. Their case has been blown out of the water along with the billions they were hoping to scoop in damages. Just go back to the first stages of this lawsuit and see what Oracle were claiming and the money involved.

    The Judge seems extremely clued up. There is so much to this case that it is hard to explain all the failings in Oracle's argument but suffice to say the author seems to have only scratched the surface and taken a sniff.

    The comparisons between SCO v The World are startling and the coincidence lies with the lawyers representing the antagonist - BSF.

    Just remember that Sun were all for Android, celebrating its launch and the positive effects for the Java community, to have another system that allowed developers to write and learn Java. A few years later after Android has become extremely successful a new owner decides it wants to monetize its Sun purchase and this is the result - nothing about morals or IP or Copyrights.

  22. Giles Jones Gold badge

    Java is different from C, C++ and other languages. It is a combination of syntax, an API and a virtual machine.

    C and C++ do not typically provide set API (they often have standard libraries and these are sometimes copyrighted), the OS provides the runtime and the API.

    So in this case it is quite right for patents and copyrights on this to be defended. Sun only tolerated Google's use of Java derived technology due to Google's overall contribution to the Java community. Oracle are obviously less tolerant.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      "C and C++ do not typically provide set API (they often have standard libraries and these are sometimes copyrighted), the OS provides the runtime and the API."

      Not really true. Neither C, C++ nor Java absolutely requires the use of programming libraries, but they are required to do anything useful. In that respect, they are no different. Just because there is a standard API generally used with JAVA doesn't mean that it is an integrated part of the Java syntax.

    2. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

      @Giles Jones

      C and C++ do not typically provide set API (they often have standard libraries and these are sometimes copyrighted), the OS provides the runtime and the API.

      Wrong. The C and C++ standards provide for two kinds of implementation: hosted and freestanding. For hosted implementations the library API is fully defined (the standards also define headers that must be present in freestanding implementations). Implementations of that library API can be provided by the compiler vendor, the OS, or a third party, and are always copyrighted. But the API itself isn't copyrighted (although the text describing it is) . And for the record, I have never used a freestanding implementation.

  23. Dave Bell

    Isn't WIPO a treaty, and hnce...

    Since this seems to be covered by WIPO and other international treaties, and such treaties have a special status under US law, somewhere between statute law and the Constitution, how can Oracle win?

  24. Greg J Preece

    "In recent years, a strangely zealous campaign against patent protection for software has been successfu"

    Which planet have you been living on? "Recent years" seem to have been chock-full of patent trolling from where I'm sat. The campaign against it can't have been that successful.

  25. BitDr

    Google has it right...

    If a language, something that is used to create expressive works, is copyright able, then by extension all works created with the language are derivitives. Take computing out of the equation, English can be used to create sets of instructions, indeed that was a longtime goal of many computer languages, to make them 'english-like'. Would Oracle consider English copyright able? SQL? COBOL? Esperanto?

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Imagine if Oracle wins. The next day, the guy that invented C will sue the entire planet for using his language and will become the first trillionarie ever. With a big T.

  27. Sentient

    I don't get it at all

    Disclaimer. I am just a simple developer who has been writing code for 15 years, some of this are API's that are being used by some our customers.

    So I know that creating a good API takes time and effort. It's easy to misinterprete function and parameter names and nobody ever wants to read the documentation. You have to take special care when you create the interfaces. Since it takes time to create something it should be worth something no?

    Why not compare it with a writer who writes a book or a musician who writes a song?

    Anyway I don't really like Java nor Oracle, but SUN spent time on creating it and it should be worth something unless they give it away. Oracle bought SUN so now they own Java.

    Simple as that.

    Probably not.

    What am I missing?

    And what's that stuff about a sqrt that always returns zero? Seriously are they debating at that level?

    Also I don't understand the google everything-should-be-for-free attitude. Like the register pointed out before they can only do this because they have vast advertising income. That's very scary to me since they could waste normal software vendors.

    1. scarshapedstar

      Re: I don't get it at all

      "And what's that stuff about a sqrt that always returns zero? Seriously are they debating at that level?"

      Well, Oracle's arguing that they own the syntax.

      Google's response is that you could write an API with the same syntax but every function returning a different result, and it would be silly for Oracle to claim that they own that one, too, because they're different in every way that actually matters. So obviously the syntactical argument fails. That's the point.

  28. Josh Holman

    C doesn't have any set API's? Great, then Ken Thompson and Ritchie's estate can sue anyone who has ever implemented <stdio.h> regardless whether it was re-implemented (and copyrighted) That should cover just about everyone using a computer.

  29. Inachu

    comment this out.

    Just remove the comments from the programming and now the entire program is entirely copyright free!

    Oh sorry I was using the google brain emulator.

  30. Gannon (J.) Dick
    IT Angle

    Hell, I don't know

    But I do know this, Andrew, maybe you can make sense of it ...

    1. There is no such thing as a "Private Language". It cannot exist through reason alone, but who ever said IT was reasonable.

    2. The US LOC who maintains ISO 639, has two sets of codes: one for Terminology and one for Bibliography. Terminology Bibliography

    3. RFC4646 covers "Terminology" only

    "Language tags are used to help identify languages, whether spoken,

    written, signed, or otherwise signaled, for the purpose of

    communication. This includes constructed and artificial languages,

    but excludes languages not intended primarily for human

    communication, such as programming languages."

    Ok, put this all together and IT has invented that which does not exist (see #1 above)

    Oh yes, and one more thing ...

    The US governs and writes laws in English (Terminology) but when the Census asks the question differently, "What Language do you speak at home ?" the answer is 110+ different (Bibliography) languages (per American Community Survey). Both Oracle and Google imagine they own the last couple of inches between your ears ... new circle of hell under construction.

  31. The Biggest Troll At The Bridge Is Named Orlowski

    On the plus side

    As with the ridiculous pursuit of IP / royalties / frivolous copyright and such in other areas, if this did actually happen and programming languages became encumbered with this nonsense, the offshoot would eventually be a community created language specifically created to be free, and without encumbrance. Given that such a language would be conceived in modern times, it may well have plenty of nice features that everyone wishes the older languages had... unless ofcourse they'd already all been patented.

    Anyone making future languages for future Quantum computing, please bare all this crap in mind.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: On the plus side

      already exists maybe? Python?

  32. Andrew Punch


    Does this mean that the Oxford English Dictionary own copyright the english language then?

    I seem to remember a Goons episode where Moriaty patented or copyrighted the word "help". Perhaps Oracle could try that next.

  33. heyrick Silver badge

    Oddites of copyright

    If my friend takes a picture, it is his picture and his copyright. If I take a copy of his picture, I am infringing his copyright. If, however, I stood beside him and took my own picture, which is practically identical, that's my picture that I can exercise copyright over.

    Oracle might have a case for infringement of the API being copied as no doubt that has copyright status, but if Google's JVM is a clean room version based upon the API, surely it is no different to my taking the same photo as my friend?

  34. davben
    Thumb Up

    Powerflex case says Oracle will lose

    This precise question, of whether a language or API can be protected by copyright, was addressed in the case between Data Access Corporation and Powerflex Corporation. The High Court of Australia says it cannot, so Data Access lost, and Oracle will too.


  35. david 12 Silver badge

    New form of IP protection required

    It has been obvious for decades that neither copyright nor patents are a good match for the kind of IP protection required for computer programs, including the program called JAVA.

    [Computer programs, aspects of computer programs, source code of computer programs, implementations of computer programs] have been squeezed into the patent/copyright mold so that they are covered by pre-existing international treaties. Yes, that also means that they are covered by pre-existing national laws, but we have seen changes in national laws over the last 4 decades. The limitation is that there is not an international treaty structure for non-patent, non-copyright, non-trademark IP.

    The result is strange contortions to fit IP into the existing structures.

    1. PyLETS

      Re: New form of IP protection required

      Java isn't a program. It's a language. Various Java compilers, VMs and libraries are copyrighted.

      It's as bad an idea for a language to be protected by IP as it would be for all roads to become toll roads. You'd have to pay to get outside your front door or gate, which would prevent you offering your services and goods within a competitive marketplace. We'd all be poorer that way so we don't do it that way.

      Roads and languages are public property for good reasons.

  36. JimmyPage Silver badge

    Isn't this a bit like

    Leo Fender, or Les Paul trying to claim that all music played on one of their instruments belongs to them ?

  37. mittfh

    Anyone got a time machine?

    If so, I'll borrow it to head back in time and take out copyright protection on any programming language that encases parameters in curved brackets, methods in curly brackets, uses the word "print" to display stuff on the screen, the acronym "int" for integers...

    Oh, and for good measure, I'll take out a patent on the ability for any programming language to compile instructions into an intermediate bytecode format...

    Perhaps also, given a certain fruity company's attacks on a rival, maybe I could also take out a patent on electronic devices housed in a black case, or the PCB, or the use of thin bands of copper for electrical connectors...

  38. Gannon (J.) Dick
    Thumb Up

    Isn't this a bit like ...

    Yes, it is.

    And it's also a bit like "Your Slaves picked My Cotton". What neither Oracle nor Google seem to grasp is that they are not intelligent life. They have motivation but no need: A Guitar is not a Lawnmower; although we (ok, me) "intelligent types" can make one sound like the other and if life was fair, I could send Leo and Les an invoice.

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I disagree with some of the sentiments of this article.

    The whole 'skirmish', as you describe it, is lawyers fighting within the practice of their own profession, which is to try to use law as a weapon of combat to secure an advantage.

    They do this mostly because they need money, and that is the way of their profession.

    To right-thinking people, it is disgusting.

    Then, the issue of the use of Java in Android is very simply seen: the creators of both systems were originally intending to create something useful, not as a means of making money for anyone, but as a means for people to use computers.

    This original intention is distorted by any attempt to use it to 'make money', and once again, it is seen by right-thinking people that such an attempt is disgusting.

    The remedy is to abandon this vice that allows money and advantage to drive activities, and law needs to see through this and stop colluding with the money-grabbing by pretending it can arbitrate.

    The law should simply dismiss litigants, the process of litigation, and itself, recommending as it does so that the money system be reformed to work in the interests of people and not against them.

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