Lady Justice

You probably heard that a partial decision was made in the Oracle versus Google lawsuit this afternoon. Nobody won, nobody lost (except us end-users, who will have to pay for all this somehow), and in reality things have only just begun to get interesting. If you're a lawyer, or pretend to be a lawyer on the Internet, you have plenty of places to get into fancy discussions, using words like discovery and writ, but I'm just here to try to break it down so that the average Joe (or Jane, or Jerry) can get a grasp on what's happening.

This was just the first phase of the trial. Judge Alsup has thrown most of the suit out of court already, leaving two sections to decide  -- 37 Java API's, and their documentation. We'll start with the question about the documentation, because it's easy -- the jury found that Google did not infringe or unfairly take from the documentation. This means that the jury doesn't think that Google read how the code in question works, then stole the idea to do it their way.

The second question being decided today is a bit more muddy. When asked if Oracle had proven that Google "infringed the overall structure, sequence and organization of copyrighted works", they responded yes, that they believe Oracle did prove this point. However, they could not decide if this structure, sequence and organization should be allowed to be patented copyrighted in the first place.  After reaching an impasse several times about the validity of copyright and fair-use, judge Alsup eventually told the jurors to act as if they were able to be copyrighted and will determine the fair use question later. 

Phase two now begins, and we expect more (and more) motions, fighting, and money being spent in the coming days and weeks. But what about that fair use question? That's important. If judge Alsup finds that the Java APIs in question, or APIs in general, fall under fair use law then it's all a moot point. Courts in the EU have found that software APIs are not subject to copyright or patent, and all fall under the fair use laws -- meaning it's fair for anyone to use them. Many feel that judge Alsup will rule the same way, and all this was for nothing.

We're not lawyers. We don't pretend to be lawyers, don't play lawyers on TV and didn't even sleep at a Holiday Inn Express last night. We're tech nerds, smartphone enthusiasts, and Android fans. All we know is that one group of millionaires is arguing with another group of millionaires about who gets what percentage of our money. Of course, both Google and Oracle claim victory, official statements are after the break. We'll keep an eye on things so you don't have to. Right now, I need an Excedrin and a whiskey sour.

More: Groklaw; The Verge

Google's official statement about today's proceedings --

We appreciate the jury's efforts, and know that fair use and infringement are two sides of the same coin. The core issue is whether the APIs here are copyrightable, and that's for the court to decide. We expect to prevail on this issue and Oracle's other claims.

Oracle's official statement about today's proceedings --

Oracle, the nine million Java developers, and the entire Java community thank the jury for their verdict in this phase of the case. The overwhelming evidence demonstrated that Google knew it needed a license and that its unauthorized fork of Java in Android shattered Java's central write once run anywhere principle. Every major commercial enterprise -- except Google -- has a license for Java and maintains compatibility to run across all computing platforms.

 

Reader comments

Oracle v Google decision -- the layman's edition

30 Comments

I laughed at that. :-)

Well written Jerry. That's for simplifying an overly complicated document/ruling. :-)

Please correct the word patented to copyrighted. they cannot be used interchangeable.

The second question being decided today is a bit more muddy. When asked if Oracle had proven that Google "infringed the overall structure, sequence and organization of copyrighted works", they responded yes, that they believe Oracle did prove this point. However, they could not decide if this structure, sequence and organization should be allowed to be patented in the first place. After reaching an impasse several times about the validity of copyright and fair-use, judge Alsup eventually told the jurors to act as if they were able to be copyrighted and will determine the fair use question later.

Personal gripe - A lot of online blogs use these interchangeably and dont really understand what each one covers and end up giving a wrong impression of false extension of copyrights and patents

A quick search online with "the free dictionary" gives this, lets define the differences :) from the definitions:

pat·ent·ed
adj.
1. Characteristic of, unique to, or originated by a particular person or group: Throughout the campaign, the candidate refuted his rival's criticisms with a series of patented responses.
2. Protected or conferred by a patent or letters patent: a patented process.

cop·y·right

The legal right granted to an author, composer, playwright, publisher, or distributor to exclusive publication, production, sale, or distribution of a literary, musical, dramatic, or artistic work.
adj.
1. Of or relating to a copyright: copyright law; a copyright agreement.
2. Protected by copyright: permission to publish copyright material.
tr.v. cop·y·right·ed, cop·y·right·ing, cop·y·rights
To secure a copyright for.

Is the real difference to do with money and how something is allowed to be used/licensed, by paying to use it? Or not able to use it at all? Or something else more complicated?

Patents and Copyrights are legal rights, and cannot and should not be defined using the free dictionary.

Patent covers an invention, whereas Copyright covers a creative work. Software can be covered by both a patent (in the underlying idea that is implemented in code, eg. the infamous amazon one-click) and copyright (in the actual code written to implement the idea)

Wow sorry to hit a nerve, I was merely using a readily available resource to see if dictionary definitions can help with understanding, thanks for the little insight though.

It's actually a pretty important distinction. Patents, generally speaking, cover the process used to create something. Wikipedia includes the following description: "any new, useful, and non-obvious process, machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter." So software can be a set of functions that produce an output or effect. Software patents themselves are up for debate, but I was under the impression that Oracle is claiming only Copyright Infringement in this portion of the case.

On to Copyright, which is easier to a identify. It applies to the fixed expression of authorship. So, the exact words I type, not the sentiment behind them. Oracle said Google copied their code, but found only 9 lines of identical code. So then the claimed the API was infringing; except that it's not identical at all. So then they said the "the overall structure, sequence and organization" of the API was used, which frankly looks pretty true. The only trouble with that is that organization and titles are not copyright-able. Here's a little snip from the copyright office on what is NOT covered by copyright:

http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ01.pdf
What Is Not Protected by Copyright?
• titles, names, short phrases, and slogans; familiar symbols
or designs; mere variations of typographic ornamentation,
lettering, or coloring; mere listings of ingredients or contents
• ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts,
principles, discoveries, or devices, as distinguished from a
description, explanation, or illustration

Imagine two text books that have similar tables of contents, in organization and chapter titles. Unless some copyrighted fixed expression is duplicated, authors are free to write similar books. So I don't buy that claim in the least, not on copyright grounds anyway. They may have a patent claim that Google used their system or process for formatting an API or language. The trouble they might run into on that route is that unlike copyright, patents are not automatically created. So Oracle would need to pull the patent Sun came up with and filed at the USPTO that listed off their API's "overall structure, sequence and organization".

So basically no matter the outcome, Android isn't dead and Android phones might get more expensive? Even if that can't be concluded from this; it's what was going to happen anyway :P But let's all hope that as the competition gets more fierce between Android OEMs the end user "the customers" get a better deal. Heck I even hope Windows Phone gets bigger (and Apple's iOS stays in the game as it probably always will) just to put pressure on Android OEMs to reduce costs and make more pushes forward with innovation and reducing costs while still producing quality high end phones.

You should all run right over and read Groklaw.

Oracle Wins Nothing That Matters.

If the Judge ultimately decides that APIs are copyrightable, and you have to pay to use them, it flies in direct contradiction of the EU ruling, and effectively brings an end to computer programming in this country.

Copyright law and patent law is completely different in the US and EU. No reason for the US courts to follow EU rulings.

You are right, But to get around that all Google then has to do is is move said "android development" to country that the EU ruling does affect thus circumventing legal action in the US.

Man I'd be pissed if I got stuck being a juror for what is essentially a big, corporate pissing match.

-Suntan

First, heck yes ...And Justice for All.

Second, because the jury couldn't reach a verdict on the fair use claim, Google's fair use defense is still alive. While Oracle won, it can't do anything with that verdict until fair use is decided. If a mistrial is declared, and it usually will be under such circumstances, the issue has to be re-tried in front of a completely different jury. The issues and claims decided by the first jury stand, but the nature of a fair use defense requires a sort of re-trial of the entire case. Judges loathe to do that and parties will usually settle before going to trial again on the same thing. The important thing to remember is that because fair use is a silver bullet to infringement claims, nobody won anything yet for all intents and purposes. If Google does get a re-trial and prevails, the copyright claims Oracle won today go bye bye. Google will also appeal a loss and has a great argument for it.

I don't practice IP law, but I haven't seen any talk of a permanent injunction. Android is safe from harm at least with respect to this case. Worst case scenario is that Google will have to cut Oracle a check and that's just a cost of doing business. As for the larger issue of API development, a Court of Appeals will be sensitive to the realities a loss by Google could bring about.

Edit: I get the sense that while the jury thought Oracle deserved something, it wasn't willing to take Google to the wood shed over it. They probably wanted some middle groud, but the way fair use was invoked here as a defensive left them with an all-or-nothing proposition to which they were not willing to commit.

Oracle won infringement on a grand total of nine lines in one routine (which was removed from Android some time ago), and that's out of 15 million lines of code.

When Oracle's lawyers asked the judge about damages concerning those nine lines, Judge Alsup said that the request "bordered on the ridiculous".

Thank you Jerry for a human-readable explanation, and for taking the only reasonable position we could have as consumers.

The Oracle statement is FUD. According to Groklaw, what the jury actually said yes to was this:

A. Has Google proven that Sun and/or Oracle engaged in conduct Sun and/or Oracle knew or should have known would reasonably lead Google to believe that it would not need a license to use the structure, sequence, and organization of the copyrighted compilable code?

And the jury said Yes, Google had proven that, which is the opposite of what Oracle said.

So to put this into even lower layman's terms we have even further proof that a jury can be befuddled by courtroom antics & legal speak. I'm still recovering from my own experience on a jury last summer involving a drunk driver, who wasn't drunk by the letter of the law, only to be prosecuted for drinking & driving while NOT being impaired. I can only imagine the legal mumbo jumbo this jury had been subjected to.

/*
My View, All we java developers wants the - " Write Once Run Anywhere Principle"

We dont want Java to get FORKED and get messed up with Standardization. I love Java coz of the fact that its always standard on any heck of the Platform.
*/

Google's official statement about today's proceedings --

We appreciate the jury's efforts, and know that fair use and infringement are two sides of the same coin. The core issue is whether the APIs here are copyrightable, and that's for the court to decide. We expect to prevail on this issue and Oracle's other claims.

Oracle's official statement about today's proceedings --

Oracle, the nine million Java developers, and the entire Java community thank the jury for their verdict in this phase of the case. The overwhelming evidence demonstrated that Google knew it needed a license and that its unauthorized fork of Java in Android shattered Java's central write once run anywhere principle. Every major commercial enterprise -- except Google -- has a license for Java and maintains compatibility to run across all computing platforms.

So I can write Java once and run it on my etch-a-sketch.

Thank God Jerry made this simple because once again I don't understand how this would bug developers in the least...

Yeah, maybe it keeps shit generic because you are making once code but to me it seems specialized codes for specialized platforms is entirely more beneficial. Kind of like the crappy porting of iPhone stuff to Android.

Anyway I also think with all this increase in technology programming should be simpler than it is and not 20 lines of code to make a goddamn line. WYSIWYG simple enough!! Kind of like the Google project to allow easy programming or Android that MIT ended up taking over.

ExcEpt that "write once, run anywhere" is a load of crap. J2SE and J2ME are not compatible. So basically Oracle is trying to say it isn't ok for Google to break Java compatibility when they do it themselves.

LMAO! Drink well earned. Thanks for a very easy to understand breakdown. As an Android enthusiast I hope the judge decides on fair use the same way European courts did not just for Android but to avoid future ridiculous law suits. I think to have most of the suit thrown out, and only two items left and one which was ruled in Google's favor, this is in every way a win so far for Google and for Oracle to even claim victory is as absurd as the lawsuit was initially!