Imagine if a writer named Ann Droid obtained an advance copy of the fifth Harry Potter book, and proceeded to transcribe the entire thing. This writer copied all the chapter titles verbatim, and did the same with the topic sentences of each paragraph.
What if this author then simply rephrased the words in the rest of the paragraph, and rushed out the book as “Ann Droid’s Fifth Harry Potter Book.”
By most accounts, this would be blatant copyright infringement.
That, in essence, is what Oracle thinks happened when Google copied the structure, sequence and organization of Oracle’s Java APIs for its Android operating system.
“Google took the code for its own uses, and it did it to leverage Oracle’s fan base,” Oracle lawyer Josh Rosenkranz has said. “Google was very careful to only use what was structural. No one was able to use the Java language as a smartphone platform.”
Oracle took Google to court over the issue in the spring of 2012, and it used the example of Ann Droid to prove its point. But Google won when the judge in the case ruled that APIs can’t be copyrighted.
So apparently Harry Potter can be protected from such copying, but not Java.
The court’s decision had sweeping implications and kept about $6 billion out of Oracle coffers. Firms such as Microsoft, EMC and Netapp all came out in favor of Oracle’s position.
But, now it looks as though Oracle may prevail on appeals. Both Reuters and Bloomberg news services have reported that it looks likely that a three-person appeal panel will side with Oracle instead.
One of those hearing the case, Judge Kathleen O'Malley, said that just because Java is freely available and widely used by programmers doesn't mean the code is exempt from copyright protection. She asked Google's lawyer if the search giant could therefore go ahead and use APIs from Apple or Microsoft. "This would apply to every possible computer program out there," she noted.
Google probably would like to use the APIs from every possible computer program out there. The trouble is that copying the APIs really does get at the heart of what the code does, even if it is rewritten slightly differently. In essence, it is a rip-off of what Java created.
While Google is a known advocate of open-source, and it generally likes to err on the side of more sharing versus less, it may have gone too far with its lifting of Java structures.
At least that’s the way the winds seem to be blowing on appeal.
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