Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 7th May 2012 20:09 UTC
Legal There's some movement in the Oracle-Google lawsuit today, but it's rather difficult to determine just what kind of movement. The jury was told by the judge Alsup to assume APIs are copyrightable - something Alsup still has to determine later during trial - and with that in mind, the judge ruled Google violated Oracle's copyright on Java. However, the jury did not come to an agreement on a rather crucial question: whether or not it was fair use. All in all, a rather meaningless verdict at this point, since it's incomplete. Also, what kind of nonsense is it for a judge to tell a jury to assume something is illegal? Am I the only one who thinks that's just complete insanity?
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RE[2]: Sigh. Thom.
by Thom_Holwerda on Mon 7th May 2012 21:11 UTC in reply to "RE: Sigh. Thom."
Thom_Holwerda
Member since:
2005-06-29

Thinking about this... I know exactly why this is so idiotic.

If not even a judge knows if APIs are copyrightable or not, how should Google have known?

A rather key element of a proper judicial system is that you cannot be found guilty of something that was not illegal at the time you did that something. E.g., if the legal limit is 80kph and I drive 80kph on Monday, and the limit is lowered on Tuesday to 70kph, I cannot be fined for my "speeding" the day before.

This is the same. Apparently, nobody knows if APIs can be copyrightable. So, how could Google have known?

To me, from the perspective of my legal system, this is pure insanity, because it creates a hell of a lot of uncertainty for civilians and companies alike.

Edited 2012-05-07 21:12 UTC

Reply Parent Score: 15

RE[3]: Sigh. Thom.
by tupp on Mon 7th May 2012 21:23 in reply to "RE[2]: Sigh. Thom."
tupp Member since:
2006-11-12

If not even a judge knows if APIs are copyrightable or not, how should Google have known?

Very insightful point!

Reply Parent Score: 3

RE[3]: Sigh. Thom.
by galvanash on Mon 7th May 2012 21:24 in reply to "RE[2]: Sigh. Thom."
galvanash Member since:
2006-01-25

Not that I disagree with your point on an intellectual level, but this is a civil law suit. Things being "illegal" has little to do with it - the purpose of civil law is to right wrongs and settle disputes. You do not have to actually break any laws to wrong someone.

It would be possible, for example, for the court to determine that APIs are in fact not copyrightable and still award damages to Oracle if they feel that Google acted in bad faith or otherwise unfairly took advantage of Sun/Oracle.

I'm not saying I think Google did anything wrong - I actually don't. I'm just saying the question of whether or not APIs are copyrightable, while being very significant to most of us, is not necessarily the only issue nor should it be.

The judge instructing the jury as was done is quite common. It allows the system to short circuit (like an if statement in programming). If the jury finds that Google did not violate the Oracles "assumed" API copyright, well then the matter of whether or not APIs are copyrightable is no longer relevant and everyone can go home...

Reply Parent Score: 9

RE[4]: Sigh. Thom.
by Thom_Holwerda on Mon 7th May 2012 21:34 in reply to "RE[3]: Sigh. Thom."
Thom_Holwerda Member since:
2005-06-29

Yes, but even in civil cases in The Netherlands, you have to have actually done something wrong. You have to have broken the our civil code (not sure how to translate it). It's distinctly different from the way common law works.

So, just to reiterate: for someone from The Netherlands without common law this just seems incredibly unfair. I just don't understand how you can be found guilty of something of which it has not even been established if it is illegal at all!

Reply Parent Score: 2

RE[3]: Sigh. Thom.
by jared_wilkes on Tue 8th May 2012 00:44 in reply to "RE[2]: Sigh. Thom."
jared_wilkes Member since:
2011-04-25

People seem constantly focused on the wrong problem. The question is: can an API contain elements which are uniquely creative and expressive? If so, those expressive elements can be copyrighted.

The judge doesn't have a problem knowing whether or not APIs can be covered by copyrights; he has difficulty disassembling what is merely functional and what is expressive.

While not strictly analogous, similar complexities can be seen when a movie "infringes" a novel by changing character names and a few plot points, changing all of the dialogue but containing a majority of the conversations expressing largely the same point, purpose, values, and content. The judge doesn't have any difficulty knowing that a novel can be copyrighted, but determining what is the uniquely expressive qualities of the source material and if the derivative relies on the source for an unfair balance of its own expressive qualities can be a substantially complex difficulty.

Edited 2012-05-08 00:46 UTC

Reply Parent Score: 2

RE[3]: Sigh. Thom.
by tanishaj on Tue 8th May 2012 01:37 in reply to "RE[2]: Sigh. Thom."
tanishaj Member since:
2010-12-22

Thinking about this... I know exactly why this is so idiotic.

If not even a judge knows if APIs are copyrightable or not, how should Google have known?


The world changes every day creating exciting new ways to bring harm to others. If everything had to be explicitly pre-codified, there would be a lot of unaddressed injustice in the world.

Most legal systems were designed to evolve. If somebody acts in an "unreasonable" way or performs an action that signicantly works against the common good then they can be judged to have acted illegally.

The US system strives to avoid creating new laws unless they are both a natural extension to precedent and necessary to support a verdict of infringement by a jury.

Reply Parent Score: 3

RE[3]: Sigh. Thom.
by Drumhellar on Tue 8th May 2012 07:28 in reply to "RE[2]: Sigh. Thom."
Drumhellar Member since:
2005-07-12

It actually does make sense. The question of whether or not existing copyright law applies to APIs is a matter of interpreting the law. This is a task for a judge, and not a jury, so jury was instructed to assume that copying APIs is a copyright violation, so that way their only question was whether or not Google copied the APIs.

Now that the jury decided that Google did copy the APIs, it is up to the judge to decide whether or not APIs are actually covered by copyright. It is possible for the judge to rule that APIs are not eligible for copyright, in which case the jury's decision is irrelevant.

Or, perhaps there is existing precedent somewhere that indicates that APIs are copyrightable. While that seems unlikely at this point, if this were the case, should Google still be not liable because "they didn't know?" In this situation, I would argue no.

Finally, if there is no precedent, and the judge decides that APIs are copyrightable, should Google still be liable, even though the law is unclear? I would argue that, yes, they are. To do otherwise would deny Oracle protection under the law. While Google could argue that the law was unclear and they shouldn't be made to pay, Oracle can just as easily make the argument that the law was clear enough for them. You can't fault Oracle for taking the position if the judge rules in a way favorable to them. In this case, it is the fault of the legislators for failing to write clear laws or to adapt.
Again, while it seems unfair that Google should be made to pay for unclear legislation, it is arguably more unfair that Oracle shouldn't be protected.

Either way, Judge Alsup indicated that he may rule in Google's favor on the issue of whether or not APIs are copyrightable. From Ars Technica's writeup on the verdict: "But at the end of the trial, Alsup gave the lawyers a short talk indicating that he may see the API issue Google's way, comparing APIs to an idea for writing a guide book from San Francisco to Monterey." ( http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2012/05/jury-rules-google-v... )

Reply Parent Score: 3