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Law Must Be With Google in Java Dispute

So, can you have a copyright on a computer language?

Former Sun executive Simon Phipps says no. "This flies in the face of the received wisdom of the software industry. It's so widely accepted that programming interfaces and languages are beyond the scope of copyright that very few cases have ever been brought to court. In those that have, the received wisdom has largely been upheld," he writes.

Software patent analyst Florian Mueller, who now consults for Oracle, says the trial record is clear. "Oracle's opening statement presented 10 documents indicating willful infringement, from a five-year period in the middle of which Google launched Android," he writes.

Mueller added, in an e-mail, that in his view the question of the language's copyright isn't at issue. "It's about complex APIs. The judge denied Google's summary judgment motion," based on claims that Oracle lacked a copyright to Java, "back in the summer because it's a question that really depends on the facts."

Maybe. Or maybe this is not a question of fact for a trial court but one of law for an appellate court.

I think the question of "complex APIs" is sort of a smokescreen covering this larger issue. Did Google need a license in order to use Java? If it did, then the creator of any computer language could now use APIs to assert copyright, and control over, the use of that language. A copyright to language APIs and one to the language itself is fundamentally the same thing.

The facts here may be on Oracle's side. Google did seek to license Java from Sun. But the law needs to be on Google's side. European law does not go where Oracle wants it to go, and if our law is going there, anyone interested in modern software development would be advised to move to Europe.

At the time of publication, Blankenhorn was long Google and held no shares in Oracle.
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