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Oracle’s API stance would be silly if it weren’t so dangerous

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols | June 2, 2016
Google won the most recent battle in the war over fair use of application programming interfaces, but the fighting will go on.

The good news is that Google beat Oracle in the latest fight over the right of developers to use application programming interfaces (API). The bad news is that Oracle will appeal the decision.

Does Oracle know what it’s really asking for?

You’d think that Oracle, which also uses open-source software, wouldn’t want to put barriers in the way of its use, but no! Instead, no sooner had the decision been handed down than Oracle general counsel Dorian Daley announced that the company would appeal the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

Daley proclaimed, “We strongly believe that Google developed Android by illegally copying core Java technology to rush into the mobile device market. Oracle brought this lawsuit to put a stop to Google’s illegal behavior.”

Give me a break.

In Android, Google uses 37 Java APIs. In case you’ve forgotten, Java, has been open source since November 2006.

Moreover, when Android first emerged a year later, Jonathan Schwartz, at the time the CEO of Sun, which was then Java’s owner, greeted the news of Android’s birth with “heartfelt congratulations.”

Last, but never least, while the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has ruled that APIs can be copyrighted, no one with a lick of sense about programming thinks this was a smart decision. All that APIs do is specify how software components interact with one another. There’s nothing in them to copyright. As copyright expert Peter Menell, a professor at UC-Berkeley School of Law, said: “Declaring code is not poetry.”

The problem is that most lawyers aren’t programmers. For every Eben Moglen, co-author of GPLv3 and leading free and open-source software intellectual property attorney, there are a thousand more who don’t know the difference between a Google search and a blog.

I pick that example deliberately because Oracle’s lead attorney, Peter Bicks, kept asking Schwartz about his “Google blog.” Say what? It turned out that what Bicks was actually talking about was Schwartz’s Google Alert, which he uses to see what’s being said about him on the Web.

Wowser. As Electronic Frontier Foundation’s (EFF) activist Parker Higgins said, “Can you imagine prepping for this case as Oracle’s lead attorney and never knowing what a blog *is*?

No, I can’t.

The co-lead chair for Oracle’s case, Annette Hurst, even tried to make a case for how Oracle’s losing was going to fatally damage open-source software.


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