The "gift" that keeps on giving

Oracle v. Google : Aaaaand the lawsuit is back! [UPDATE]

Gabriela Motroc
Fight image via Shutterstock

It just won’t go away. The legal battle between Google and Oracle shows no signs of stopping. The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit recently ruled in favor of Oracle. In short, this means Google could owe Oracle billions in damages.

Tale as old as time! Just when we thought this lawsuit won’t come back, they surprised us with another round.

Earlier this week, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled in favor of Oracle, Ars Technica reported. This means that Google could owe Oracle billions in damages. This case will be sent back down to federal court in San Francisco to decide Google’s financial “punishment”.

According to Bloomberg, even though Oracle originally wanted $8.8 billion, the number could grow.


Update February 13, 2017

The legal battle between Oracle and Google has entered its seventh year. On Friday, Oracle kept its promise and filed an appeal in the lawsuit against Google.

The tech giant said in its opening brief that “when a plagiarist takes the most recognizable portions of a novel and adapts them into a film, the plagiarist commits the ‘classic’ unfair use,” Ars Technica reported.  It claims that Google unfairly used “thousands of lines of copyrighted code from Oracle’s Java programming platform.”

Google reaped billions of dollars while leaving Oracle’s Java business in tatters.

Last year, Oracle promised to appeal the jury’s decision after it was decided that Google’s use of Java APIs in Android was, in fact, fair use. The company said in a statement in late May 2016:

Today’s verdict that Android makes fair use of Java APIs represents a win for the Android ecosystem, for the Java programming community, and for software developers who rely on open and free programming languages to build innovative consumer products.


Update July 5, 2016

It’s not over until the fat lady sings. According to Ars Technica, the search engine may have the last word in the Oracle vs. Google trial after all; Google will be filing a motion for sanctions against Oracle and its law firm, Orrick, Sutcliffe & Herrington. It appears that Oracle attorney Annette Hurst openly talked about financial arrangements between Google and Apple that were confidential.

Speaking in court earlier this year, Oracle’s attorney revealed that the tech giant pays Apple $1 billion to keep its search bar on iPhones. Bloomberg News later wrote that even though rumors about how much Apple received from Google to be on the iPhone have existed for years, the companies have never publicly disclosed it —until Hurst used this information in court to point the finger at Google’s “commerciality.”

After the transcript of the hearing was made public, Google asked US District Judge William Alsup to seal and redact it. The transcript disappeared from electronic court records one days after it was made public, but by then the numbers were all over the news. As a result, Google asked for sanctions. According to Google attorney Bruce Baber, “[f]ollowing Oracle’s failure to take remedial action, this sensitive information became headline news for major news outlets.”

Alsup allowed Google to file a 15-page motion seeking sanctions. The search giant also filed a request that Oracle pay back $3.9 million in costs: $1.8 million for managing documents in the case, over$1.8 million in payments to a court-appointed expert and nearly $300,000 for transcript fees.


Update May 31, 2016

Google may be in a celebratory mood right now, but Oracle is not happy with the outcome of the lengthy legal battle. Annette Hurst, who represented Oracle in the high-profile trial, published a blog post on LinkedIn in which she denounced the verdict. She began the post titled The death of “free” software…or how Google killed GPL by saying that “Google won a verdict that an authorized, commercial, competitive, harmful use of software in billions of products is fair use.” She opined that if this decision sticks, “the free software movement itself now faces substantial jeopardy” and anticipated the end of GPL as we know it.

Hurst said that developers’ happiness may be short-lived because even though they think they won, “it’s time to think about more than your desires to copy freely when you sit down at a keyboard.” She claimed that developers should have been on Oracle’s side and that they failed to look at the “larger and longer term implications.”

The comments were hardly in her favor — people slammed her for not knowing the definition of an API and concluded that she should stick to her profession and not pretend she is some sort of software expert.


Update May 27, 2016

The long-term legal battle between Google and Oracle is (for now) behind us. After deliberating for about three days, the jurors finally had an answer to the question: Has Google proved that its implementation of Java (within Android) constitutes fair use under the Copyright Act? Their answer was that Google had not broken any law.

Google’s victory comes amidst fear that Oracle’s accusations would undercut practices that are used around the globe to create all sorts of software. Jurors decided that the search giant did not need Oracle’s permission to use some elements of Java and agreed with the former’s lawyers who claimed that copyright law allows “fair use” of Java elements as long as they represent only a small part of a massive system of software that Google designed for a new purpose.

Oracle promised to appeal the jury’s decision.

Oracle said in a statement after the jury’s decision:

Today’s verdict that Android makes fair use of Java APIs represents a win for the Android ecosystem, for the Java programming community, and for software developers who rely on open and free programming languages to build innovative consumer products.


Update May 25, 2016

There goes their last chance to prove a point! The fearless lawyers of Google and Oracle have used up their last chance to prove whether Google should give Oracle billions of dollars or not. Oracle lawyer Peter Bicks emphasized that Google knew time was ticking and “took a shortcut […] at Oracle’s expense,” Ars Technica reported.

For over an hour, Bicks tried to prove why Google’s “fair use” claim should not be accepted and destroy the search giant’s testimony which focused on the fact that Sun Microsystems had no problem with Google using the APIs. He called Google “a company that believes it’s immune from the copyright laws.”

Meanwhile, Google attorney Robert Van Nest focused on the tech giant’s most valuable witnesses: Jonathan Schwartz, CEO of Sun Microsystems, Alphabet CEO Larry Page, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and former Android chief Andy Rubin. “Android has helped Java,” he concluded.


Although both sides had the chance to make memorable closing remarks, the jurors stole the spotlight once again.


Update May 20, 2016

The end of the Oracle v. Google legal battle is almost upon us but as the former’s attorney Peter Bicks shoots poison arrows to Google’s witnesses, Alphabet CEO Larry Page is trying to prove that the search giant didn’t think it needed to get permission to use Java APIs since they were “free and open,” Ars Technica reported.  Bicks reminded Page of the fact that former Android chief Andy Rubin warned him that the Java APIs were copyrighted, but the CEO claimed that “Java.lang APIs is not a well-defined term.”

When the attorney tried to corner Page, he said:

For me, declaring code is not code.

In 2012, when the legal fight made its way to the courtroom for the first time, Page said that he didn’t feel the company had done anything wrong. Although four years have passed since that testimony, the CEO of Alphabet still believes that the Java API declarations used by Google were “free and open” so there was no need for a license.


Update May 18, 2016

The second week of the Oracle v. Google legal battle debuted in force as Oracle President Safra Catz said they did not buy Sun specifically to file a copyright lawsuit against Google.

Sarah Jeong, contributing editor at Motherboard, and Parker Higgins, an EFF activist, are tweeting from the courtroom — some of the most important tweets can be found here.

As the trial turns into a programming lesson for the jury, the software industry is wondering if the jurors truly understand what’s at stake. Meanwhile, Judge Alsup managed to win people’s hearts.



Update May 13, 2016

The legal battle between Oracle and Google is going full speed ahead. Star witnesses such as Andy Rubin, Google’s former Android chief, and former chief executive of Sun Microsystems, Jonathan Schwartz, have taken the stand so far and even though they (indirectly) cheered for team Google, there’s no way of knowing the name of the winner. One thing is sure: everyone who knows what an API is will be (to some extent) affected by the decision.

Alphabet Chairman Eric Schmidt tried to describe APIs, and so did Schwartz with his breakfast analogy. The former chief executive of Sun Microsystems tried to explain that even though there may be two restaurants that have hamburgers on their menu, the products are very different —in this case, the hamburgers are implementations and the terms on the menu are an API.

If Oracle wins, the idea of copyrighting a Java API would become a norm —one that may bring about a plethora of changes. First of all, Android may have to modify the way it’s designed. Unless Google manages to convince its executioners that it transformed those Java APIs into a masterpiece, Android could become unrecognizable. Second, if Oracle’s lawyers manage to establish that the Java APIs are indeed protected by copyright, so can anyone’s lawyers —especially since a huge number of services offer APIs to build certain products or services into third-party websites, apps, etc. If Google’s ace in the hole [Fair use] is demolished, such a precedent could spark replicas across the tech world.

Plus, it has become common knowledge that some of the best ideas stem from open-source APIs. The developers who used to come up with million dollar ideas would not be able to use those lines of code without having a long discussion with a lawyer first. And then there’s this question: who’s next on Oracle’s hit list?


Update May 11, 2016

Lawyers did their best to lay the blame on their targets. While Oracle lawyer Peter Bicks told the jury that three billion phones worldwide have been activated with something that belongs to Oracle, Google lawyer Robert Van Nest fought back as he pointed out that spitting out Android was not an easy (or cheap) work. Bicks emphasized that Google took their property without permission, but Alphabet Chairman Eric Schmidt told the jury there was previously no charge to use the Java language (he was working at Sun Microsystems when Java was created). The former Google CEO emphasized that the search giant only used what it believed was free and revealed that he had used APIs without asking for permission on other occasions.

Jonathan Schwartz, the then-CEO of Sun Microsystems even celebrated Android in November 2007. However, the entire blog was deleted when the legal battle began a few years ago.

“I just wanted to add my voice to the chorus of others from Sun in offering my heartfelt congratulations to Google on the announcement of their new Java/Linux phone platform, Android. Congratulations!” Schwartz wrote.

Screen Shot 2016-05-11 at 9.01.24 AM



Update May 10, 2016

The jury that will decide the fate of a nearly $9 million dollar legal battle between Oracle and Google has been chosen. Ten men and women from different backgrounds (former aerospace CFO, a lawyer who works for local government, an employment coordinator, an electrician, a homemaker, a retiree, and a product manager for a local power company) were selected after several hours of questioning, Ars Technica announced.

Most of the jurors were not aware of this high-profile case.


Update May 9, 2016

Tw years ago, a U.S. Court of Appeals decided that copyright law applies to 37 Java API packages Google used to create the Android mobile operating system. Although giving Oracle the full $8.8 billion it demands will not harm the search giant’s piggy bank, as Reuters predicts, the implications could be more serious than previously expected.

The outcome of this legal battle could influence the upcoming Android versions, as well as the way developers handle interoperable software.  Oracle claims that the search giant’s use of Java APIs gave it the chance to eclipse the company co-founded by Larry Ellison. Regardless of the financial impact of this lawsuit, the implications could be deeper and could affect the entire industry of software development.

No impact on API copyrightability

According to Foss Patents, the conclusion of this trial (no matter who wins) will not influence API copyrightability “in a general rule that makes APIs available on ‘fair use’ terms.” Round two is all about “fair use,” a concept which allows new ideas to be built on earlier ones; this is Google’s ace in the hole, because it claims that it added new meaning to the Java API packages by including the code in a smartphone operating system. Florian Mueller, the founder of the FOSS Patents blog, wrote in a tweet that this trial’s round two is unlikely to bring clarification on APIs.

If Google loses, the idea that code should be transformable will no longer be accepted. In this scenario, any company or developer  would be right to fear a copyright suit over use of an API. Ars Technica cited Mitch Stoltz, an attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, as saying that some of the lawsuits could have a hidden motif, namely to simply shut down competition. If the jury decides that “fair use” is just an excuse, developers may soon spend “more time talking to their lawyers.”

Destination unknown

The trial could go either way, since U.S. District Judge William Alsup (the same person who decided that APIs should not be eligible for copyright) said in the set of instructions published in early May that “Google did not have the right to use the exact lines of declaring code and the overall structure, sequence, and organization of the 37 API packages,” but also claimed that the jurors should consider the extent to which they find it was necessary for the search giant to use both the declaring code and organization of the 37 API packages to write in Java.

SEE ALSO: US Supreme Court will not review software copyright decision in Oracle vs Google drama

Google’s plan B? reported last month that if Google is prohibited from using those copyrighted APIs, it should have a plan B. The Next Web was first to reveal that Google may adopt Apple’s Swift programming language for Android and explained that discussions between a few renowned companies started around the time Swift was going open source. The publication noted that representatives from Uber, Google and Facebook “were at the meeting in London discussing the new language.”

Sources told The Next Web that “Google was considering making Swift a ‘first class’ language for Android” while the other two companies wanted to better incorporate Swift in their operations and services. Even though Google will replace Java with Swift, the switch will not be immediate.

Swift has been released under a permissive-license —”simply a non-copyleft open source license — one that guarantees the freedoms to use, modify, and redistribute, but that permits proprietary derivative works,” which means Google could use it without legal repercussions. Adopting Swift would give the tech giant a chance to end its problems and make it easier for developers to build their Android apps.

Gabriela Motroc
Gabriela Motroc was editor of and JAX Magazine. Before working at Software & Support Media Group, she studied International Communication Management at the Hague University of Applied Sciences.

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