Copyright

by Mike Masnick


Filed Under:
android, api, cafc, copyright, fair use, java

Companies:
google, oracle



Big Win For Fair Use: Jury Says Google's Use Of Java API's Was Fair Use... On To The Appeal

from the ain't-done-yet dept

This is somewhat surprising, but good: after a few days of deliberation, the jury in the redo of the Oracle v. Google case concerning Google's use of Java's APIs in Android has resulted in a jury verdict finding that Google's use was allowed as fair use. There's not much to unpack here beyond what we've already written about the case. The jury form was a simple question of whether or not the use was covered by fair use, with a "Yes" check box meaning "finding for Google" and a "No" check box finding for Oracle The jury checked yes.

So, a few quick thoughts:
  1. All things considered this is a good ruling in that it doesn't lead to a crazy situation that undermines the reimplementation of APIs and other structures in different software, so *phew*.
  2. This still sucks because fair use was the wrong vehicle. The APIs never should have been considered copyright-eligible in the first place, just as the judge in the original trial explained in his very detailed opinion. It's only because an excessively confused federal circuit appeals court mucked things up, that the case had to go back down and be redone over fair use.
  3. The trial itself was a weird one, because they weren't really allowed to talk about the first trial and how a very large number of people in the tech industry didn't think that APIs were covered by copyright at all. So that resulted in some weird conversations to explain why no one really thought this was infringing. They couldn't say no one thought APIs were covered by copyright, so they had to talk about "open" and "free" in ways that were slightly misleading.
  4. If anything, this may be the most important fair use case to turn on factor 2, "the nature of the copyrighted work." That's a factor that rarely is a very big deal, but without being able to (re)challenge the copyrightability, the focus was mostly on the nature of APIs and how the tech industry viewed them as free to be reused.
  5. Of course, no matter what the verdict was there would be an appeal, and that's absolutely true. Oracle will appeal. But it does make it more difficult to appeal. Oracle will have to challenge specific aspects of things, and will likely focus on the jury instructions, which it will argue unfairly biased the jury or something along those lines.
  6. The Court of Appeals of the Federal Circuit (CAFC) is still a disaster, and while I hope they don't, there's still a decent chance they'll end up siding with Oracle on appeal. Remember, CAFC is a court that normally focuses on patent laws and has a long and disgraceful history of loving to expand intellectual property and believing, incorrectly, that any kind of use is "theft."
  7. But, in the meantime, this at least lifts something of a cloud over the industry, and we can hope that (1) CAFC will get it right and if they don't (2) that the Supreme Court will fix it, rather than ignore it, next time around.
Overall, a good result of a bad process and a confused judicial system. For now.

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  • icon
    NoahVail (profile), 26 May 2016 @ 2:04pm

    Nice. I needed some good news today.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 May 2016 @ 2:08pm

    Thankfully the outcome was correct even though the fact this 2nd trial had to occur was oh so wrong. Oracle has been put in its place twice now; let's hope that sends a message that they need to knock it off.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 26 May 2016 @ 2:23pm

      Re:

      The CAFC has not been put in its place yet, and if Oracle can give them an excuse to reverse this decision, well they are are of the opinion that intellectual property trumps all else.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Mark Murphy (profile), 26 May 2016 @ 2:19pm

    CAFC Appeal

    > there's still a decent chance they'll end up siding with Oracle on appeal

    Really? I thought the CAFC was the court that rejected the original trial result, but bounced it back to the lower court specifically to examine the fair use case. If they weren't willing to entertain a jury deciding that it's fair use, they would not have left open that possibility. Right?

    Then again, IANALNDIPOOTV (I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 May 2016 @ 2:32pm

    A Prenda update and Google wins in one day? I never could get the hang of Thursdays.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 May 2016 @ 2:44pm

    Logically Valid - Thankfulness

    "...good result of a bad process and a confused judicial system."

    Let A = "good process" and B = "good result."
    Let ~A [NOT A] = "bad [not good] process."

    The truth table of the proposition

    ~A implies B is

    A.~A..B..~A->B
    T..F..T....T
    T..F..F....T
    F..T..T....T
    F..T..F....F

    Note that ~A->B is true for all cases of "bad process." So, we're logically safe, concluding "bad process" implies "good result" - yay!*

    Ellison and company are leaders in a long parade of copyright maximalist asshats. Better would have been some actually correct argument implying our good result. For now, I'll take the logically marred finding as preferable to the equally logically valid but WRONG alternative. Meanwhile, I remain uneasy and pray for ignorance from any reviewing authority, unless it be to recognize and correct the original proposition and finding to "good process" implies "good result."

    * Of course, the truth value for ~A implies ~B also true - rats!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    crade (profile), 26 May 2016 @ 2:51pm

    You had to expect this result. Basically the worst result we can hope for in this case imho is a result that says API is covered by copyright, but Google gets off on a technicality of some sort and everyone else is left unsure of whether or not they are allowed to create compatible APIs in their situation.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      crade (profile), 26 May 2016 @ 2:53pm

      Re:

      Worse because if it the decision actually controlled all creation of compatible APIs, I have enough confidence it wouldn't last at all, whereas a decision that says they "might be able to control some" has a good chance of haunting us forever.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      JoeCool (profile), 27 May 2016 @ 9:49am

      Re:

      I expected this result based purely on De Minimis. API headers are almost certainly less than 0.0001% of the whole code base, so if that can't be called De Minimis, NOTHING can and De Minimis has no meaning.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 May 2016 @ 3:39pm

    If the question of API Copyrightability works its way through a separate appeals court, is is possible SCOTUS could visit the case at some indeterminate future date?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Mike Masnick (profile), 27 May 2016 @ 1:58am

      Re:

      If the question of API Copyrightability works its way through a separate appeals court, is is possible SCOTUS could visit the case at some indeterminate future date?

      Yes. Though I have to imagine anyone filing such a lawsuit would... choose where they file it carefully. Or, if they can in any way possible include a patent claim just to get it into a CAFC jurisdiction. Maybe someone can get a declaratory judgment case going in a good circuit, but that may be difficult as well.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Jeremy Lyman (profile), 27 May 2016 @ 4:28am

        Re: Re:

        Might also want to be careful about when they file. I'm not super sure the current Supreme Court would actually fix the CAFC debacle; what with their existing refusal to examine this appeal that sooooo many people are sure is wrong, and recent Grokster and Aero rulings.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    SpaceLifeForm, 26 May 2016 @ 4:26pm

    FOSS Licenses

    To avoid future problems, all FOSS Licenses
    should explicitly state that use of the APIs
    regarding any software to be used and/or
    distributed under said license is Fair Use.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Lawrence D’Oliveiro, 29 May 2016 @ 1:11am

      Re: all FOSS Licenses should explicitly state ... is Fair Use

      Nice idea ... except fair use isn’t what a copyright licence says it is.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Whatever, 26 May 2016 @ 7:03pm

    Google won?!

    No...

    N-n-n-no!

    Nooooooooooooooo!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 May 2016 @ 6:40am

    If the case should make it to SCOTUS, would Google be able to argue APIs are not copyrightable as it did in the first case, or would their arguments be limited to those brought up during the second case?

    What would this mean in terms of precedent on copyrightability?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Wendy Cockcroft, 27 May 2016 @ 8:06am

    Well I'm glad that the jury found that it was fair use, and while I know they weren't allowed to talk about the copyright-ability of the API, I'm confused as hell about the fact that, despite multiple protestations from the Google legal team and their witness that all the code was open source to begin with (therefore no copyright violation COULD have been at issue), there has been no judgement along the lines of, "It was open source so why was this case brought again?"

    Copyrightability is not the issue when the code is free to use, AFAIK. I'm really confused about this since, if I'm right, Google had no case to answer unless they had breached the terms of the open source licence.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Jeremy Lyman (profile), 27 May 2016 @ 9:31am

    Greatest Hits

    My feelings on this haven't changed in the last 4 years, so I'm just going to dip into the rich pallet that is my comment history.
    "Also, a random Android user gets to strike Ellison roughly with the back of his hand. What? That's how court works, right?"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Violynne (profile), 27 May 2016 @ 2:14pm

    A pointless victory.

    No one won this case.

    Especially those who ignored the fact APIs have always been covered by copyright.

    Common sense has, once again, failed us all because you can't fix stupid.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 May 2016 @ 2:52pm

      Re:

      Um... No.

      Allow me to enlighten you.
      U.S. Code § 102 - Subject matter of copyright

      § 102 (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.
      https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/17/102

      An API is essentially most of what this describes - an idea, procedure, process, method of operation, concept.

      An API is just a specification. It's basically a framework that describes how to communicate within a given app or another app. Hence the name "Application Programming Interface" The underlying "behind the scenes" stuff WITHIN the API can be copyrighted, but not the API itself. It has no functionality on its own. Google did not copy ANY of the underlying code at all - only the API concept - mostly in the name of interoperability - something that copyright also allows for.

      All was right as rain in the world until Oracle came along and started whining and had CAFC throw into chaos what had been decades long established industry practice (actually.. even before programming was even considered an industry for that matter)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 28 May 2016 @ 7:14am

      Re:

      That editorial is amazing. I wonder if the lawyer really believes the nonsense he said, or if he's just hoping that the developer community is filled with idiots.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 28 May 2016 @ 9:05am

        Re: Re:

        I suspect that that article is FUD, designed to stop corporation jumping ship from Oracle to open source databases. It is an unfortunate fact than senior management has so little understanding of copyright that they will believe what a lawyer tells them; after all they involve lawyers in many of their decisions.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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