Whilst ordinary users may only think they come across Java when a little popup flashes up on their desktop asking them to update, it is one of the most widely used programming languages in the world and truly cross-platform. It was originally developed by Sun Microsystems and was released as free and open source (under the GPL) in 2006 and is used everywhere from supercomputers to mobile phones.
Although the language is open source, it is stewarded today by Oracle (which acquired Sun Microsystems in 2010), and although the programming language itself may be open source – Oracle is claiming that the APIs used to access many of its functions are not. This is where the problem lies, and with Google building much of its own open source mobile operating system, Android, using Java and its associated APIs – Oracle is claiming about $1 billion in damages.
According to Oracle, Android “exploits Java but is not fully compatible with it”, and is essentially forking the language which prevents Java-like code developed on Android from being used elsewhere on other Java installs. Google is accused of publishing 103,400 lines of Oracle’s Java API specifications on its Android developer website – content which Oracle claims it holds the copyright for and are not covered by Java’s open source license.
Google, with the support of much of the open source community, is claiming that the APIs of a free and open source programming language should also be open source – as without them, the programming language is “deaf, dumb, and blind” – and essentially useless. Sun Microsystems may have been a company that embraced and improved upon the open source community – but yet again Oracle is showing itself to be hostile to that community, something many also feared when they acquired MySQL AB, the sponsors of the open source MySQL database that underpins much of the open web.
There is more at stake in this case, filed at the San Francisco District Court, than simply an issue of damages and money between two huge corporations – there is the legal certainty of much of the open source movement on the table. If Oracle is successful and the court finds that Google/Android has infringed on Oracle’s copyright, then not only will the majority of Android apps need to be rewritten or at a minimum of re-licensed – but the legal standing of any software or application using an open source language would need to be reconsidered to be sure of legality.
The open source movement has made a huge contribution to the progress of technology, with Apache, PHP, and MySQL, and WordPress powering much of the web, with users accessing the web using Firefox or Chrome – and then many applications on all devices and systems written in Java. If Oracle wins this case all of these will need to be reassessed.
[via BBC News]