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01 June 2012, 10:41

Judge dumps Oracle Java API copyright claim

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Google Android Win art Judge William Alsup has ruled that Oracle does not have a copyright in the structure, sequence and organisation (SSO) of 37 Java APIs in its copyright infringement case against Google. The judge determined that APIs were, for legal purposes, akin to titles or catchphrases, which were not covered by copyright. The ruling means that Oracle's long running case against Google over Android is coming to an ignominious end – with almost none of Oracle's original allegations in its legal pursuit of the open source mobile operating system surviving the case. The two patents that came to trial were ruled non-infringing by the jury a week ago.

All that remains now are nine lines of code which "crept into both Android and Java"; Oracle's claims around this code are described as "overblown" by Alsup, pointing out the nine lines appeared in a 3,179 line class making it an "innocent and inconsequential instance of copying". That copyright claim is limited to statutory damages of $150,000.

Alsup's 41 page ruling on the 37 Java APIs found that despite there being a creative element in the creation of the tree of calls that made up the API, it was also a "precise command structure" and as such a "utilitarian and functional set of symbols"; under the Copyright Act, it could not, therefore, be copyrighted and duplication of the structure was necessary for interoperability.

"To accept Oracle’s claim would be to allow anyone to copyright one version of code to carry out a system of commands and thereby bar all others from writing their own different versions to carry out all or part of the same commands. No holding has ever endorsed such a sweeping proposition", said Alsup. The judge did point out though that his ruling "does not hold that Java API packages are free for all to use without license" or that the SSO of all computer programs "may be stolen", saying that it only applies to the "specific facts of this case".

Oracle's spokesperson told the Wall Street Journal that it would be pursuing an appeal saying that the ruling would "make it far more difficult to defend intellectual property rights". Google applauded the decision as upholding "the principle that open and interoperable computer languages form an essential basis for software development".


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