Oracle’s obsession with suing first and thinking about the implications later might have opened a can of worms for the company.
On Friday Oracle had a big win, when a federal appeals overturned a ruling in their epic battle over the Java programming language.
The dispute comes down to code used in Google’s Android operating system which if it does go forward could create a new breed of software trollage on a scale never seen before. The issue is one of cloning. Most software developers will tell you that cloning software is OK provided you do not cut and paste the source code.
Oracle thinks it can claim copyright not just over the source code itself, but over the standard names and structures used to organise Java. Therefore, it owns the designs of Java’s application programming interfaces, or APIs.
The techy judge Judge William Alsup ruled that was silly, but the Appeals Court disagreed and overturned his ruling.
This means that many important pieces of open source software which are clones of something else will suddenly become open to be trolled into oblivion. This could kill the Linux operating system and various cloud services and no doubt other proprietary software too.
In a post to the online discussion site Hacker News, Bryan Cantrill, the CTO at cloud provider Joyent, called the idea that APIs could be copyrighted a “perverted and depraved principle”.
“An API is a description of what the software is going to do,” Cantrill tells us. “You can think of the API as the plot as opposed to the novel. If you’re saying that that abstract notion of the plot is copyrightable, then everything is derivative.”
But what is even more ironic is that Oracle itself could be a victim of its own court case. Apparently it is sitting on shedloads of software in which its programmers copied APIs.
Cantrill works on an open source version of the Solaris operating system, and he claims that Oracle copied some of his APIs into its Oracle Solaris product without permission.
He said that he will not become a software copyright troll because that is wrong in principle, however the patent trolls have shown that there is no level to which they will not stoop if they can threaten anyone and make a quick buck.
Our guess is that there will be many patent trolls looking to becomes software trolls who are frantically scanning the APIs of Windows, iOS and Oracle software now trying to find vague similarities between code they wrote a decade or two ago which has been copied into other software.