Oracle has fired the latest round of shots in its ongoing war with Google over the source code of the Android operating system.
Despite Google winning what seemed like the final-round last year after a judge ruled that its use of Java code was fair use, Oracle vowed to fight on and has accordingly filed papers that argue that the original trial failed to take into consideration certain aspects of the way the code from the Java system it inherited when it bought Sun Microsystems was being used and how it relates to its intellectual property.
Oracles argument is that while Java is open source, it believes that the APIs it provides in order to interface the code with that of other programmers is subject to copyright and therefore the billions of dollars that Google has made from Android is partly theirs to the tune of $9bn.
Google, along with the rest of the software industry, sees this as a somewhat ridiculous premise as it negates the whole point of open source software if it is then useless unless you pay someone a licence.
Look at it this way, let's say bought you a house. No strings, no mortgage, I just buy you a house.
But then months after you settled in, I tell you that mortar wasn't part of the deal and that you have to pay me thousands of pounds to keep living in the house because although you own everything from floor-to-ceiling otherwise, I'm going to evict you for stealing my mortar.
Actually more accurately rather than evict you, I decide to start charging you rent for a house that you own.
Now in the case of Oracle and Google, the mortar is probably affordable, but the issue at stake sets a precedent for the entire software industry right down to kids programming in their bedrooms.
Because if Google is not allowed to use Java without paying a licence fee, then much smaller companies with shallower pockets will suffer the same fate. Not only could that stop successful software packages from working overnight, but could severely stifle innovation in the sector by making it unaffordable to start designing software.
Both companies clearly see themselves as having a point to prove but in the case of Oracle it seems to be fuelled by a principle of greed. The platform the platform it inherited was always open source and it seems that Oracle has no vested interest beyond simply making a shed load more money.
As such the consequences of its actions with repercussions so deep and this new precedent so ingrained at that point, it makes Oracles ongoing vendetta seem not only greedy but highly irresponsible.
The danger is that whatever the ins and outs of the case, Oracle could very well change the software industry forever and not for the better. In short both parties really need their heads banging together because no matter who you believe is right or wrong in the situation there's no real winner here but potentially an awful lot of losers.
Google has argued that there is almost no remains of the offending code left in Android today anyway, but Oracle's new case takes issue with the fact that Android has been expanded out beyond mobile phones, which were at the centre of the original case to things like televisions and automobiles.
Oracle has even claimed that Android has destroyed Java as a viable platform in certain key markets and therefore it is entitled to compensation.The latest filing says, "The jury reached the wrong result because the district court repeatedly undermined Oracle's case, often directly contrary to this Court's prior opinion. The court reinforced Google's theme that Android was limited to the smartphone market where Java supposedly did not compete—and eliminated one of Oracle's central arguments—by precluding Oracle from showing all the markets where Android and Java overlapped. Android supersedes Java in markets Java occupied before Android—including TVs, cars, and wearables. But the district court barred all evidence of Google's competition in any market other than smartphones and tablets."
Neither Oracle or Google has made a formal comment since the filing.
What makes all this even more frustrating is that Oracle is recognised as having a terrible reputation for clear licensing with many companies falling foul of clauses in the past but Oracle's lawyers have lept on. Should the "fair use" decision be overturned it could pave the way for Oracle to launch legal action against everybody who has ever used the Java code and perhaps more worryingly it probably would.
The whole spirit of open source is the ability for everyone to be able to create software collaboratively, and the only way to do this is to ensure that coders don't feel intimidated to innovate. When one bad apple shakes the tree to this extent there is a genuine risk of bringing the guiding principles that give joy to so many and employment to many more crashing down.
But this time it goes beyond having badly written licences and loose scruples, and onto a point where a vague point of principle could make things worse for everyone and it's at that point we really have to question whether it's a price worth paying.
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