In what is likely to be a crucial decision in the ongoing legal dispute between Google and Oracle, Judge William Alsup has found that Oracle has no copyright claim regarding Google copying portions of its Java API, in a decision which will give developers much cause for relief, as finding in Oracle’s favour would have upended much open source development.
In a statement, Alsup said that
So long as the specific code used to implement a method is different, anyone is free under the Copyright Act to write his or her own code to carry out exactly the same function or specification of any methods used in the Java API.
Oracle has said that it plans to appeal the decision, and the Federal Circuit Court where that appeal will be heard will certainly have more expertise than this district court – but for the time being Google is free to continue using Java in Android as it has been doing. However, with the recent addition of ENYO (HTML5) developers to Google from HP may mean that by the time this case reaches appeal that Android may have moved away from Java in most cases anyway.
This case, and those like it we will continue to see, revolve around the interplay between open source software and commercial companies attempting to exploit that software. Oracle has acquired MySQL, Java, Open Office in recent years – all widely successful open source initiatives. However, Oracle continues to try and exploit fees from them the way a company would through its closed source offerings – and the community as a whole is not receptive to this idea. Forks of MySQL and OpenOffice appeared almost as soon as Oracle got involved with them – and this is the problem. Huge corporation understandably are watching their profits, and they see the successes of their open source competitors stealing “their” limelight and customers – so they attempt to gain control of these efforts and monetise them. The top down, slow and lumbering corporate approach is simply never going to be a good fit for the development of their tools and services and when divisions happen we get court cases.
Luckily, here the case is between Oracle and Google (a tech/geek company with very deep pockets), but what if Oracle went after Apache or Mozilla? Those companies simply could not afford the legal fees to fight and any such legal cases could have a very detrimental effect on open source progress.