by Mike Masnick
Mon, Jul 9th 2012 8:29pm
by Mike Masnick
Tue, Jul 3rd 2012 12:44pm
from the good-for-them dept
The Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal, so while technically the ruling still only applies in the 9th Circuit, it's what most consider to be the state of the law in the US (there is always the possibility a different circuit court could disagree and it could go back to the Supreme Court -- and one could argue that some other rulings in the 9th Circuit already conflict -- but for now, the Autodesk case is widely considered the standard). There is, also, the upcoming ReDigi case, of which there's a decent profile in the Boston Globe -- but that's focused on music, and it's not entirely clear how that one will come out either.
Over in Europe, however, it appears that the European Court of Justice (who has been pushing out some relatively insightful rulings on copyright issues lately) seems to recognize just how ridiculous the 9th Circuit's view on first sale and software really is. In a new ruling, it has upheld the right of first sale on software, basically saying that you are buying a license and that license is resellable.
The specific case involved a company, UsedSoft, that was trying to create a market in reselling used software. Oracle sued, claiming that its license agreement specifically stated that it could not be resold. However, the court found that the right of first sale applied. In the court's language, it talks about copyright "exhaustion" which is the idea that once you've sold something you've "exhausted" your right to control it.
It makes no difference, in a situation such as that at issue in the main proceedings, whether the copy of the computer program was made available to the customer by the rightholder concerned by means of a download from the rightholder’s website or by means of a material medium such as a CD-ROM or DVD. Even if, in the latter case too, the rightholder formally separates the customer’s right to use the copy of the program supplied from the operation of transferring the copy of the program to the customer on a material medium, the operation of downloading from that medium a copy of the computer program and that of concluding a licence agreement remain inseparable from the point of view of the acquirer, for the reasons set out in paragraph 44 above. Since an acquirer who downloads a copy of the program concerned by means of a material medium such as a CD-ROM or DVD and concludes a licence agreement for that copy receives the right to use the copy for an unlimited period in return for payment of a fee, it must be considered that those two operations likewise involve, in the case of the making available of a copy of the computer program concerned by means of a material medium such as a CD-ROM or DVD, the transfer of the right of ownership of that copy.There are some interesting side notes on this. First, the court also rules that if Oracle promised free maintenance updates to the original licensee, it must continue to provide those to whomever purchased the "used" software. However, it also puts a couple of limitations on this. The first one is somewhat obvious: the seller of the used license can no longer be using the software. Oracle argued that this would be hard to track, but the court rightly points out that this is the same issue that those who sell software on CD-ROMs and DVDs face, but they figure out how to survive:
As Oracle rightly observes, ascertaining whether such a copy has been made unusable may prove difficult. However, a copyright holder who distributes copies of a computer program on a material medium such as a CD-ROM or DVD is faced with the same problem, since it is only with great difficulty that he can make sure that the original acquirer has not made copies of the program which he will continue to use after selling his material medium. To solve that problem, it is permissible for the distributor – whether ‘classic’ or ‘digital’ – to make use of technical protective measures such as product keys.Separately, however, the court ruled that you cannot divvy up the number of seats in a license and sell them individually. That is, if you buy a 100 seat license to some software, and are only using 50, you can't then sell just those other 50 seats. This ruling says that the first sale only applies to the entire license agreement, basically.
There is some disagreement as to how "big" an impact this ruling will have. To be honest, I'm not convinced that the overall impact will be that large, but I think it is a good thing that the court appears to recognize that you cannot contract away certain rights granted to you under copyright. Copyright holders have long tried to remove the limitations and exceptions of copyright law through contracts and "licenses." Recognizing that those limitations and exceptions really do exist is important, and it's good to see the EU Court of Justice release a clear ruling on that issue.
by Mike Masnick
Thu, Jun 21st 2012 10:44am
from the procedural dept
by Mike Masnick
Wed, Jun 6th 2012 7:15am
from the oh-irony dept
by Mike Masnick
Thu, May 31st 2012 3:46pm
from the a-bit-narrowly-focused dept
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. It does not matter that the declaration or method header lines are identical. Under the rules of Java, they must be identical to declare a method specifying the same functionality — even when the implementation is different. When there is only one way to express an idea or function, then everyone is free to do so and no one can monopolize that expression. And, while the Android method and class names could have been different from the names of their counterparts in Java and still have worked, copyright protection never extends to names or short phrases as a matter of law.As some have pointed out the ruling is somewhat narrowly focused just on these 37 APIs, but the principles involved in why those 37 APIs are not copyrightable certainly will apply to plenty of other APIs as well. The ruling itself (embedded below) is pretty thorough and detailed. We had noted earlier that Judge Alsup had admitted that he'd learned to code Java in order to better understand the case (and that he'd had a history of knowing other coding languages as well) -- and it shows. Rather than using braindead broad analogies that don't make much sense, as we see all too often in court rulings, Alsup gets to the heart of the matter and clearly understands what an API is and how it works. His ruling is actually a decent primer on some parts of code for those who have never coded.
It is true that the very same functionality could have been offered in Android without duplicating the exact command structure used in Java. This could have been done by re-arranging the various methods under different groupings among the various classes and packages (even if the same names had been used). In this sense, there were many ways to group the methods yet still duplicate the same range of functionality.
But the names are more than just names — they are symbols in a command structure wherein the commands take the form
java.package.Class.method()Each command calls into action a pre-assigned function. 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.
From that, Alsup points out just how ridiculous this entire case has been -- and specifically notes that he's explaining the level of ridiculousness of Oracle's position for the benefit of the appeals court who will surely hear this case once Oracle appeals (and which almost certainly will be staffed with judges not nearly as clued-in as Judge Alsup).
Oracle has made much of nine lines of code that crept into both Android and Java. This circumstance is so innocuous and overblown by Oracle that the actual facts, as found herein by the judge, will be set forth below for the benefit of the court of appeals.He goes on to explain not just how insignificant the situation was, but he details how it happened and why it's crazy to consider it worthy of a copyright infringement suit. It's a pretty complete smackdown of Oracle's position.
Again, it is quite likely that Oracle will appeal, even though this ruling is so firm it might be smarter for Oracle to issue a giant apology to the tech community and just get on with doing business. That seems unlikely, of course, as Oracle probably hopes to find less knowledgeable judges on appeal. One hopes, however, that the appeals court judges will recognize the very, very thorough nature of Judge Alsup's ruling, and reject any appeal as well.
by Mike Masnick
Wed, May 23rd 2012 11:08am
from the there-goes-that-one dept
Groklaw has the details with "no" answers across the board:
Question 1: has Oracle proved by preponderance of evidence that Google infringed?
Claim 11: not proven
Question 2: not proven
Question 3: no answer, no response, not applicable.
by Glyn Moody
Mon, May 21st 2012 3:10am
from the you-can't-fool-me dept
Recently Techdirt wrote about the heated debate on the subject of whether people should learn to code. We pointed out that some knowledge of that subject could be particularly useful in helping people understand why copyrighting APIs or patenting software is just crazy -- whatever the abstract legal arguments, in practice both make programming much, much harder.
An obvious situation where such practical knowledge could be crucially important is in court cases dealing with software. Rather neatly, the long-running court case between Oracle and Google, where the former is accusing the latter's Android of infringing on its code in various ways, has thrown up a perfect example of this.
It arose in an exchange between Judge Alsup and Oracle's main lawyer, the high-profile David Boies, best known for representing the US Justice Department in the United States v. Microsoft case. Boies claimed that the fact that the jury had decided Google's "rangeCheck" code had copied Oracle's implementation of the same function was evidence that Google was trying to save time. The argument of Boies was that Google consciously copied those few lines from Oracle in order to accelerate development -- and thus to start making money faster through daily activations of phones running its Android operating system.
But Judge Alsup was having none of it:
I have done, and still do, a significant amount of programming in other languages. I've written blocks of code like rangeCheck a hundred times before. I could do it, you could do it. The idea that someone would copy that when they could do it themselves just as fast, it was an accident. There's no way you could say that was speeding them along to the marketplace. You're one of the best lawyers in America, how could you even make that kind of argument?
This is a perfect example of a judge being able to draw on his personal experience of coding to dismiss what a clever lawyer probably thought was a clever argument.
Contrast this with another judge, talking this time about software patents, as recently reported on Techdirt:
Judge Michel seemed unaware of the depth of the software industry's dissatisfaction with the patent system. He suggested the patent system's critics were relatively marginal figures not representative of the views of the broader technology industry. And he didn't seem to understand the dynamics of the patent arms race currently affecting the software industry.
No one who has tried to code in any depth could dismiss the problems caused by software patents so glibly -- it would be hard, for example, to imagine Judge Alsup saying this.
"If software is less dependent on patents, fine then. Let software use patents less as they choose," Michel said. "If other industries are terribly dependent on patents, then let's not wreck the system just because software people are unhappy."
Learning to code certainly isn't a panacea, nor is it relevant for everyone. But for those professionals who must make important decisions about software -- judges, for example -- a basic programming literacy is indispensable. As it is, the tech industry must count itself lucky that the Oracle vs. Google case seems to have ended up in front of one of the few judges qualified to decide it.
by Mike Masnick
Fri, May 11th 2012 4:01pm
from the wow dept
When Alsup heard Jacobs say this, he warned that if Oracle goes down this path, they might not win anything at all, adding that it is the “height of ridiculousness” to think that Oracle could claim “hundreds of millions” of dollars for nine lines of code.The only thing I can figure here is that Oracle is doing this just to be a pest. Even if it does eventually win on the copyright issue (still an open question given the judge needing to rule on the copyrightability of APIs), it's not going to get that much money either way. The $150,000 statutory damages numbers are pocket change for either company, but as the judge made clear, in all likelihood it would get less (or nothing) if it tries to get "infringer's profits," because the contribution of the code in question is so minimal. However, it is possible that the fight over what those "profits" might be will simply prolong the case... and the expense of the case. So perhaps this is just a strategy by Oracle to drag things out? Maybe its lawyers are hoping that will make Google want to settle? Other than that, I'm with the judge in being a bit perplexed by the reasoning here.
“The law can’t operate that way,” Alsup said. “In my mind, you’re making a mistake.”
In a later discussion on Friday morning, David Boies, also representing Oracle, tried to defend this strategy, arguing that the burden of proof is on Google here — not Oracle.
“What we are saying is once you proved infringement, we think under the law we have claim for infringer’s profit case,” Boies asserted.
by Mike Masnick
Mon, May 7th 2012 11:48am
from the if-it-was-fair-use,-it-wasn't-infringement dept
According to The Verge (who is in the court room), the jury also wasn't buying the claim that Google relied on Sun's statements saying that Google's use was okay. The jury's main problem with Google's claim here wasn't that Sun hadn't made clear that the use was acceptable. It was that there wasn't much evidence that Google actually relied on such claims from Sun. I can understand why the jury might claim this, but I wonder why it would matter. Given that Sun made clear that Google's use was acceptable, in what world could you later turn around and claim that its use was unacceptable?
Either way, the fact that the jury couldn't come to an answer on the fair use/de minimis questions effectively sinks the entire process. Google immediately asked the judge to declare a mistrial, and the judge has supposedly asked both companies to prepare arguments over whether or not a mistrial should be declared, so this is far from over.
by Mike Masnick
Fri, May 4th 2012 5:31pm
Ongoing Patent Fights Mean Startups Are Now Wasting What Little Money They Have At The Patent Office
from the not-cool dept
Unfortunately, it appears that not all startups are working that way. With Yahoo's patent fight against Facebook getting so much attention these days (not to mention other big patent fights involving companies like Google, Apple, Microsoft, Oracle and others...), it seems that startups are (rather reluctantly) spending a lot more time (and money) at the Patent Office.
This is, to put it mildly, crazy. The two biggest scarce resources for startups are time and money. Throwing them away on getting patents is a huge waste, and it's main purpose is to act as insurance against failure or against jealousy over extreme success. Basically, most patents are completely useless. But if a company is failing, then perhaps it can sell off its patents. And, if a company is succeeding, then suddenly others will start suing it for patent infringement -- and the hope (rarely realized) is that having at least a few patents in the portfolio means that other practicing entities won't sue for fear of getting sued back (patent trolls are exempt from this, however).
It's really too bad that the state of the patent world today is such that are most innovative companies are basically forced to throw away time and money to apply for patents they never want to use.
One separate aside on this story. The article talks about the Twitter IPA agreement, and later quotes the founders of the startup Everyme as saying they support the IPA, but: "their first three apps were already with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office by the time IPA was available, though, and they don’t plan to refile them." This sentence makes no sense. The IPA has nothing to do with the USPTO and the patent filing. It's merely a part of the assignment agreement, leaving some portion of control with the inventor. In fact, Twitter -- who does have some patents -- has said that it's using this agreement retroactively with patents that were applied for before the IPA existed. So there's no reason to refile the applications at all. In fact, the IPA is entirely separate from the actual patent application.