back to article Google hauls Java-on-Android spat into US Supreme Court

Google's long and bitter dispute with Oracle over the Java implementation in Android is set to go all the way to the US Supreme Court. The court has listed Google's request to have the US Court of Appeals' decision in the case reviewed. The row has been bubbling along since 2011, when Oracle alleged Google owed it “billions” …

  1. Tom 7 Silver badge

    Oracle are most definitely evil

    and have shit for brains - if they win this they are screwed.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Oracle are most definitely evil

      Regardless of win or lose the computer industry as we know it will stop to exist.

      1. If Oracle wins - a large chunk of open source (including f.e. Wine) is illegal overnight. Alternative implementations of the same functionality - f.e. different implementation of math libraries, etc are illegal overnight (the copyright of the original holder makes them illegal).

      2. If Oracle loses formally, the landscape changes too, just in a more subtle ways. There are quite a few open source projects which have copyrighted extenal facing APIs and their expression through deliberate spray-hosing of include files with GPL2 and GPL3. This is the most common method used by companies which have a parallel open and closed source implementation to ensure that the open source functionality cannot be extended to match the closed one. It is also commonly used in various misguided attempts to crowbar a particular license on all work that uses a particular library (note - this is not derivative work as per the definition of copyright laws). Well, this one also bites the dust overnight.

      The implications in either case are in the 10s of billions (at least). So the likelihood that the supremes will hear it is quite high.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Oracle are most definitely evil

        If Oracle win maybe IBM should sue for the initial work they did on SQL. It would be a shame if Oracle had to pay a royalty on every copy of SQL it has sold and then have to cease and desist using it.

    2. Jyve

      Re: Oracle are most definitely evil

      Aye, this is what I don't get, there's going to be people crawling out of the woodwork with, to be fair, valid claims against Oracle/MS/Pretty much EVERYONE.

      There won't be enough lawyers to take on the work this is going to cause, and the need for one to be sat next to every coder on the planet to make sure they don't break an existing copyright on how to print 'hello world'.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Oracle are most definitely evil

      Google have been making money from the innovations of others for far too long wihout paying adequate compensation. I hope The Borg gets badly burnt!

      1. wikkity

        Re: Oracle are most definitely evil

        Regardless of what someone's opinion on Google as a company is, you can not knock their contribution to innovation and making it available to the world via open source or without fear of being sued. Sure, they could do a lot more put compared to the other big names they are far ahead.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Oracle are most definitely evil

        Google have been making money from the innovations of others for far too long wihout paying adequate compensation

        Do you have anything that backs that claim up? Google (let's ignore politics) have made a substantial number of improvements for the web alone, and have also greatly contributed to open source.

        Does everyone who uses open source (instead of making their own inferior and incompatible solutions) get tarnished with that same brush?

        I hope The Borg gets badly burnt!

        If you think Google are the only losers if Oracle win, then you need to brush up on your reading skills. If you do understand the problem, then you're a disgrace to this industry!

        Google could change (or licence) this API over-night - of course they have a contingency plan. It's everyone else who'll be fucked.

      3. dogged

        Re: Oracle are most definitely evil

        I don't like Google any more than you (apparently) do because selling people is wrong whether or not the people in question are digital reconstructions of dubious accuracy.

        However, if it is found that APIs are subject to copyright, the knock-on effects will be enormous. For example, remember that the API normally called XmlHttpRequest or XHR was created by (and would be presumably owned by and subject to license fees payable to) Microsoft.

        And that's just one example. There are millions.

      4. Roo
        Windows

        Re: Oracle are most definitely evil

        "Google have been making money from the innovations of others for far too long wihout paying adequate compensation. I hope The Borg gets badly burnt!"

        You must find it a delicious irony that the plaintiff in this case ships a clone of RedHat Linux, and actually makes it a selling point that it's a total rip off with the stated intention of driving the original developer out of business. They make Google look like cuddly kittens by comparison.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Oracle are most definitely evil

          "You must find it a delicious irony that the plaintiff in this case ships a clone of RedHat Linux, and actually makes it a selling point that it's a total rip off with the stated intention of driving the original developer out of business."

          Fair enough but they're not doing anything wrong, this is allowed under the various OSS open license agreements. You yourself are welcome to take the RHEL sources, build and market your own "rip off" as you so elquently put it. CentOS have been at it longer than Oracle and I'd rather use CentOS than either RHEL or OHEL.

          The difference with the Google Java thing is that Oracle are just pushing their luck to see what they can do, to see if they can set a precedent. If they succeed there will be so much fallout it will be frightening. Don't just think about the common standard C, C++, C~, etc APIs, think about all the code you've ever written, all the methods and functions you've all built over the years, now how many of those might you have "borrowed" the signatures from formal API specs? Pretty interesting case.

          1. h3

            Re: Oracle are most definitely evil

            Unless this ruling means (AT&T or whoever) decide that they want the same from anybody using C.

          2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: Oracle are most definitely evil

            "CentOS have been at it longer than Oracle and I'd rather use CentOS than either RHEL or OHEL."

            Pay attention at the back! Centos are now part of Red Hat.

  2. Charlie Clark Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Good for Google

    Get this clarified in the US once (and hopefully) for all.

  3. Paul Shirley

    apis can be protected, sometimes

    Remember: the first decision DID NOT SAY APIs were not copyrightable in general, it specifically limited itself to that case. It's something that seemed to get overlooked in the initial celebration.

    My personal opinion is the appeals court completely screed up here but the first hearing didn't do much better at establishing why in this specific instance copyright didn't apply.

    1. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

      Re: apis can be protected, sometimes

      But if a company says, "My API is copyright" is it worth the risk of taking them to court, or do you settle or go out of business? This would be the definition of "chilling effect".

  4. William Donelson

    Remember, there is NO COPYRIGHT in TITLE.

    I see API's as "titles of the code or function"

    Generally, I think most software patents are total crap.

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      I see APIs as similar to specifications. Copyright is relevant and important in terms of the specification itself: ie. who may duplicate and amend the specification but it says nothing about implementation which are authorised by the spec.

      Patents are all about implementation and not relevant to the discussion here.

  5. Bryan Hall

    Best case

    The best result, software patents are completely dismissed. Innovation wins, and lawyers lose - so we know that won't happen.

    Second best, APIs are rulled as the generic interfaces they are.

    The other option is so poisonous that the entire software industry will fail, leaving at best, a weak freeware / open source model since there isn't anyone worth a lawsuit. I really doubt that will be allowed to happen.

    1. Roo
      Windows

      Re: Best case

      "The other option is so poisonous that the entire software industry will fail, leaving at best, a weak freeware / open source model since there isn't anyone worth a lawsuit. I really doubt that will be allowed to happen."

      Doubtful. I suspect that a few big players & trolls will survive in the US/European markets, everyone else will be sued to oblivion, customers will pay a lot more for a lot less and the industry will stagnate. Meanwhile in places where the choke hold of IP lawyers is less pronounced (e.g. Russia,India,China) the software biz will thrive while the IP titans of the West will continue to produce overpriced crap that fails to sell in the global marketplace, WTO@USofA notwithstanding.

      There would be second order effects too, Western businesses being forced to use uncompetitive crapware will not be as productive relative to the places that allow competition in the market place.

      We've seen that happen with the hardware business already...

      1. Anonymous Bullard
        Windows

        Re: Best case

        Western businesses being forced to use uncompetitive crapware will not be as productive relative to the places that allow competition in the market place.

        We've seen that happen with the hardware business already...

        It's been happening for the past 2 decades with the OS, too.

        1. Roo
          Windows

          Re: Best case

          "It's been happening for the past 2 decades with the OS, too."

          Fair point, and probably a better (if inflammatory) example. Have an upvote. :)

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Best case

      @ Bryan Hall

      This case is about copyright not patents; they are different types of IP. Try again.

    3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Best case

      "The best result, software patents are completely dismissed. Innovation wins, and lawyers lose - so we know that won't happen."

      Could you please explain the relevance of software patents to s copyright case?

  6. sorry, what?
    Black Helicopters

    Intel vs AMD?

    OK, more on the "hardware" rather than "software" side here, but when third party chips are compatible with the instruction set of a well known CPU - this instruction set looking somewhat like an API to me - are they potentially in breach?

    1. Indolent Wretch

      Re: Intel vs AMD?

      They would be yes. Although in the specific case you mentioned AMD had a license anyway.

    2. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Intel vs AMD?

      IAMNAL but I think the Cyrix stuff demonstrated compatibility without a licence. Sometimes companies pay to play to get more information on the specification or to be able to brand their equipment as compatible but I'm not aware of any legal impediments.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This is probably one of the most interesting tech cases to come to court as the outcome of this will dramatically shape the future of software development. I can see why Oracle are taking a shot a Google over this, if I was Oracle I'd be annoyed as well but that doesn't mean I should be able to do anything about it.

    I've been trying to come up with a real world analogy to what Google are doing but the case doesn't really map to the real world. The closest I can get is to think of the API as being akin to the shape of an object, lets say a car. Google have made a car the same shape as Oracle. The analogy doesn't fit very well though as the API is also more like the pin out for the connectors in the car so Google have made a car with the same pin outs for the connectors.

    Personally, I wouldn't allow copyright of API's. The way I see it even if there is some creative element to API development the ramifications of allowing them to be copyright works are so huge it would be better for everyone if they weren't. I really hope common sense prevails here.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      if I was Oracle I'd be annoyed

      The thing is, Oracle have little to be "annoyed" about. The original creator of Java (Sun) had no problems with it.

      1. Matt Bryant Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: AC

        ".... Oracle have little to be "annoyed" about. The original creator of Java (Sun) had no problems with it." Yes, but Larry bought Sun with the sole intention of squeezing as much cash out of Java and MySQL as he could, and had a '$2bn in the first year' dream of forcing other vendors to cough up licensing fees for what Sun had given away 'for free' (actually encumbered with licensed material from 3rd parties as well as Sun). Larry has no fear of courtrooms, indeed he seems to have a very belligerent and reckless attitude when it comes to throwing sueballs about.

        Of course, Sun created the problem with their licensing schemes - had they really gone with GPL for all of Java in the first place then Larry would have a hard time even on the API argument. But then many of Sun's leaders saw the OSS community as a threat for decades due to Linux gutting their Slowaris business. Richard Stallman spent many years warning about the 'Java trap' and it seems he was right, even after 2006 (https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/java-trap.html).

        1. Oninoshiko

          Re: AC

          If sun had used the GPL Java would have been useless. The reason the license was chosen was to make sure the API would be truly under sun's control, allowing them to properly enforce the "Write once, run anywhere" concept they desired.

      2. Fluffy Bunny

        More to the point, Sun put Java into the public domain. How is Oracle allowed to come alone 10 years later and revert it to a narrow proprietary fringe?

        People will stop using it if Oracle succeeds.

  8. Gene Cash Silver badge

    Ugh.

    The SCOTUS justices have no clue how to operate a mobile phone, much less understand the impact of this decision. I can see them taking a third way out that screws us all even more and makes the situation worse.

    1. Hud Dunlap
      Paris Hilton

      Re: Ugh. @ Gene Cash

      The reality is the Justices don't write the opinions. Their law clerks do. The Justices just tell them what they want the results to be.

      http://www.amazon.com/The-Brethren-Inside-Supreme-Court/dp/0743274024

      I know enough attorneys to know that Judges rarely waste time actually writing the opinion, unless it is highly political and they want to advance their agenda. I don't see this case being that political.

      Paris, because she understands this as much as SCOTUS does.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hope that Google can precisely make the point: the point is not whether APIs can be copyrighted or not. The API specs can be copyrighted, just as with any intellectual work. You can't reproduce -read, copy- the specs without permission from the author and all that good stuff.

    (of course, an API whose documentation can't be reproduced or is not publicly available will not do very well as a public API or as an API for that matter, as nobody will be interested in using it, the whole point of an API being that it provides some degree of confidence on what you can expect from a piece of software)

    The critical point is that no one can restrict anyone to implement a particular *public* API. The implementation can be copyrighted, but only yours. You can't claim that someone else is violating your copyright by implementing your public API. An API is a contract. While you can't copy the text of a contract and claim it to be yours, you can provide something that meets the same exact contractual requirements without violating any laws. If you don't want someone to implement your public API, simply don't publish it and keep it private. When you make an API public you're implicitly giving rights to use it (otherwise why you'd publish it?) but you're also allowing the possibility of someone providing the same service with the same API and competing with you.

    The ramifications of this go way beyond Google, Oracle or the software industry and could reach ridiculous levels. All industry standard specifications could be subject to the same rule. All service level agreements based on contractual requirements. Anything from the specification of a power plug to the pin layout of a chip could be subject to claims from the creator of the specification, even if it were released initially as public. Creating any software, service, or physical component that meets some written requirements could fall into this same case. Oracle could very well destroy itself winning this lawsuit (hey, you see, this SQL language you're using is actually an interface) and together take down the whole western industrial and intellectual production with them.

    But that's something for those outside Larry's island/yatch to worry about and now the money is in cloud, cloud, cloud, not in open, open, open (or developers, developers, developers)

    (Note I: yes, in order to implement an API it may be necessary to use some parts of the API specification verbatim, such as function names, function signatures or type names. That's one of the Oracle's arguments that has already been dismissed, as it is an accidental but essential feature if you want to provide the alternative implementation)

    (Note II: yes, there can be private APIs, disclosed under NDAs and with arbitrary restrictions attached to its use, see MPEG. But once you release a public API, you can't go back in time and make it private, and that is the case with the Java spec)

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