Judge Alsup has ruled that Oracle’s Java APIs are not copyrightable, and in doing so, developers everywhere let out a sigh of relief. Oracle has engaged Google in a legal battle over Android’s use of JAVA language for quite some time. Now, Judge Alsup made his final decision regarding the case regarding the Java Application Protocol Interface.
The overall name tree, of course, has creative elements but it is also a precise command structure — a utilitarian and functional set of symbols, each to carry out a pre-assigned function. This command structure is a system or method of operation under Section 102(b) of the Copyright Act and, therefore, cannot be copyrighted. Duplication of the command structure is necessary for interoperability…
Copyright Act 17 USC Section 102, paragraph b:
(b) In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work.
Oracle will likely appeal on grounds that its command structure is a work of art that stands on it’s own. However, those of us who are familiar with Java will say otherwise. Java is an extremely straight forword programming language, which is intended to read close to natural language. The entire language was optimized for natural language expression. For example, if you want to create a File reference called myFile to a File on your computer called C:\readme, you would write: File myFile = new File(“C:\readme”); .
Had Java’s programmers decided that they wanted to obfuscate the language more and make the structures less like natural langauge, they may have stood a chance of calling the langauge a work of art. However, Java is simple, to-the-point, and is designed to be useful rather than attractive. Each word in Java would be representative of a Noun, Verb or adjective in English. The same features that make it easy to learn and use are what makes it “utilitarian.”
If Judge Alsup had ruled that Oracle could copyright their API, every API since the creation of computers would come under scrutiny! Any application that communicated with another application could be prosecuted using the Oracle versus Google case as a precedent. Any developer who makes a plugin that interfaces with another program out-of-license could have faced legal action.
This ruling marks the end of the Oracle versus Google case. Oracle’s legal team may have earned enough to pay off their lawyers. The ruling is fair, but we can expect this will not be the last we see of Oracle, as they will surely attempt an appeal. For today, we should all take a minute to realize that this case establishes a base of free expression of language through programming.