After Oracle’s expected and well-deserved loss versus Google, Oracle’s attorney Annette Hurst published an op-ed about the potential impact of the case on the legal landscape of the software development industry. The op-ed focuses on one particular aspect of Google’s position, which author puts as following:
[B]ecause the Java APIs have been open, any use of them was justified and all licensing restrictions should be disregarded. In other words, if you offer your software on an open and free basis, any use is fair use.
This position, as she claims, puts GPL in jeopardy: common dual-licensing schemes (GPL+proprietary license) depends on developers’ ability to enforce the terms of GPL.
It is pretty obvious that the danger of this case for the GPL and the open source community is heavily overstated – the amount of attention this case have received is due to the fact that the developer community never really considered header files as copyrightable assets. The whole “GPL in jeopardy” claim, as well as a passage saying that “[n]o copyright expert would have ever predicted [use of header files for reimplementation of an API] would be considered fair”, is merely an attempt to deceive readers.
The interesting bit is why Oracle’s lawyer tries to pose her client’s attempt at squeezing some coins from Google as an act of defending the free software community. Does Oracle still think the open source proponents may regard it as an ally, even after Sun’s acquisition and the damage it dealt to OpenSolaris, OpenOffice and MySQL projects?
I don’t know if this clears up anything really – lawyers (who make up all 3 branches of government at this point in the US) see these things very differently from engineers.
My read on this is that it does set a pretty clear line for the “public APIs”. This lawyer seems to want to expand that to include to any and all copyrighted material. That’s a bizarre jump, as that is absolutely not what is being discussed in the case.
Anyway, it may clear some things up in at least one area involving WordPress. The core devs have a well known position that you basically can’t write any plugin or theme code for use with WordPress that isn’t covered by GPL even if you write to their public APIs, because all that is ultimately derived from GPL copyrighted API code.
This decision, in the way this lawyer has described, would seem to make it clear that just using the API in your own plugin or theme code does not mean copyleft applies to your code. On the other hand, this was probably already clear to most people except those at Automattic.
Anyway, I’m not a lawyer, and they see everything differently anyway.
It is still quite sad that Google did not give a penny to Sun, after benefitting so much from what they have developed.
The relatively cheap Sun workstations (compared to HP, IBM) and many things that Sun developed helped a lot the open source ecosystem. So much that it eventually killed Sun.