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Judge makes it official, Java API structure can not be copyrighted

by Alistair Lowe on 1 June 2012, 11:30

Tags: Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), Oracle (NASDAQ:ORCL)

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It was revealed a week ago, through a Jury vote, that Google did not infringe on Oracle's Java patents in a case that has been ongoing since mid-April, however, the issue of whether Google breached copyright by copying the general structure of the Java API had remained up in the air, until now.

When jurors were asked to provide a verdict on the matter, they were told to assume that the Java API is copyright and to form their response on this basis, leading to a split verdict, which could have resulted in a retrial. Judge Alsup revealed yesterday, however, that after careful deliberation, he has decided that the Java API structure can not become copyright, at least not in the manner in which Oracle is claiming Google has violated, he goes on to explain why:

In closing, it is important to step back and take in the breadth of Oracle's claim. Of the 166 Java packages, 129 were not violated in any way. Of the 37 accused, 97 per cent of the Android lines were new from Google and the remaining three percent were freely replicable under the merger and names doctrines. Oracle must resort, therefore, to claiming that it owns, by copyright, the exclusive right to any and all possible implementations of the taxonomy-like command structure for the 166 packages and/or any subpart thereof - even though it copyrighted only one implementation. To accept Oracle's claim would be to allow anyone to copyright one version of code to carry out a system of commands and thereby bar all others from writing their own different versions to carry out all or part of the same commands. No holding has ever endorsed such a sweeping proposition.

In short, word for word copyright requires that a significant portion of the original work be copied, which, at what works out as a total of 0.67 per cent of code directly copied by Google, Judge Alsup has deemed Google's cross-over is not significant enough to constitute a copyright violation. This leaves Oracle's claim that it owns the rights to the actual structure of the code and not just what wording is used, which Judge Alsup claims, if he were to set a precedent now, would suggest that programmers have the right to copyright all implementations of a certain ordering or structure of commands, something which, in America at least, is more along the lines of a software patent, not copyright.

Thus the case wraps up, with Judge Alsup declaring that API structure can not become copyright, whilst leaving the word for word copyright of APIs up for debate. Orcale's naturally not the happiest firm around right now and closed with the following statement:

Oracle is committed to the protection of Java as both a valuable development platform and a valuable intellectual property asset. It will vigorously pursue an appeal of this decision in order to maintain that protection and to continue to support the broader Java community of over 9 million developers and countless law abiding enterprises. Google's implementation of the accused APIs is not a free pass, since a license has always been required for an implementation of the Java Specification. And the court's reliance on "interoperability" ignores the undisputed fact that Google deliberately eliminated interoperability between Android and all other Java platforms. Google's implementation intentionally fragmented Java and broke the "write once, run anywhere" promise. This ruling, if permitted to stand, would undermine the protection for innovation and invention in the United States and make it far more difficult to defend intellectual property rights against companies anywhere in the world that simply takes them as their own.

HEXUS Forums :: 3 Comments

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Hahah Oracle, thats what you get for being a terrible terrible company.

Shame Apple hasnt really shared the same fate :P.
To view this post, a Java update needs to be installed.

Sadly Java has become the annoying thing which pops up in the system tray every few days demanding an update to most of my friends and family.
Wow, that judge really has his head screwed on - I particularly like the categorisation that Oracle seemed to be wanting to copyright all/any versions of the Java API. So not just the library/libraries (which I think is far game for copyright/license) but also the interfaces those generate, and all alternative implementations of those interfaces.

Anyone who doesn't see this as a judgement as a victory for common-sense obviously is in the pay of Oracle. Hopefully Google do the decent thing and pay the fine for the judgement that did go against them quickly and we can move on.

Meanwhile the rest of us will don the blue face paint, hold the claymore high, and cry “FRREEEDDDDOOOOOMMMMMM” (apologies to Mr Gibson).