The Oracle v. Google Suit is Still an Anti-Open Move That Shouldn't Have Happened

by Ostatic Staff - May. 31, 2016

All the way back in 2010, when Oracle filed a complaint for patent and copyright infringement against Google regarding parts of the Java code found in Google's Android mobile OS, I wrote a post calling the move "the anti-open move of the year." Fast-forward to today, and in the Oracle v. Google trial that just concluded, a jury returned a verdict in Google's favor. It basically concluded that Oracle's suit against Google, claiming that the use of Java APIs in Android violated copyright law, was bunk.

Now, in an op-ed piece for Ars Technica, Annette Hurst, an attorney who represented Oracle, equates the jury's decision with the death of open source.

According to Hurst:

"Not only will creators everywhere suffer from this decision if it remains intact, but the free software movement itself now faces substantial jeopardy...While we don't know what ultimately swayed the jury, Google's narrative boiled down to this: because the Java APIs have been open, any use of them was justified and all licensing restrictions should be disregarded. In other words, if you offer your software on an open and free basis, any use is fair use...If that narrative becomes the law of the land, you can kiss GPL (general public license) goodbye."

"No business trying to commercialize software with any element of open software can afford to ignore this verdict. Dual licensing models are very common and have long depended upon a delicate balance between free use and commercial use. Royalties from licensed commercial exploitation fuel continued development and innovation of an open and free option. The balance depends upon adherence to the license restrictions in the open and free option."

 Hurst makes a good point that dual licensing models are increasing, with many open source projects available for free, while commercial versions, often including support, come at a cost. But the Oracle suit originated because Oracle essentially perceived itself as owning a moat around Java that didn't really exist. 

Here is what Dana Blankenhorn wrote back when the suit was filed:

"The idea of open source is we drop our legal swords and don't go to war with one another after exchanging precious bodily fluids. What made Java a universal technology was the assumption it was covered by a patent non-aggression pact, starting with the Java Community Process, launched in 2002. It has been covered by the GPL since 2006...What open source has proven, conclusively, is that agreements and cooperation can be more profitable than legal war."

Indeed, one of the lasting images of this long running legal skirmish is going to be Oracle behaving in a decidedly anti-open fashion. It may have been wiser for Oracle to simply let this one go.