The Oracle versus Google spat is being decided by the Supreme Court and the Department of Justice filed a significant brief, siding with Oracle.
If the Supremes agree then a very technical issue of “copyrightability of application programming interfaces, or APIs” will be decided. All hell will break loose with everyone who ever wrote a program suing the big companies, claiming bits of code were stolen. Innovation will dry up as people rewrite software with their own code to avoid being sued.
The lawsuit arose out of Google’s Android software, which totally rewrote the implementing code but copied a large portion of the declaring code—that is, the command words and rules of the Java API—in order to make it easier for programmers already familiar with the Java API to write programs for Android. Oracle said that this amounted to copyright infringement and sued Google.
But a side issue for sci-fi and fantasy geeks is that there would also be an effect on so called alien languages.
The big idea is as elfish, Klingon and more recently Dythranki are made up languages, all those geeks who use them are in breach of copyright. While you might think that this will only stuff up Star Trek conventions, you might be surprised to know that there is a lot of these languages which have found their way into code.
So a software company which is confident that it wrote all its own code, might still be sued because its software designers wrote all their comments in Klingon.
But all languages are on a par with the Java API. Other fields, such as medicine, engineering, and sports, rely on well-known jargon for efficient communication of specialised concepts. Many of these are based on English so it will actually be possible for a common English sentence or phrase to be copyrighted in the US.
Think about it. If a writer accidently uses a sentence in the same way as another writer they could be sued for copyright. In fact all you would need to do is run two books through a computer and see if any sentences were the same. Some sentences will be short and if they appear in both books you could be in for an expensive court case.
What will happen is that there will be all sorts of copyright trolls appearing, like ambulance chasers at every book signing. If Oracle wins, then defences like Fair Use will become much harder to convince a US court.
Fortunately we are fairly sure that one of the first casualties of an Oracle win in the Supreme Court will be Oracle itself. It is sitting on mountains of code and no one can convince me that there is not the odd line or comment in Klingon, or a cut and pasted routine.
Everyway Klingons are not the sort of people you want to hack off — you never want to get anyone with a cornish pasty on their forehead cross.