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Oracle and Google Spar Over Whether Programming Languages Can Be Copyrighted

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the makes-perfect-sense-minus-the-sense dept.

Google 316

pcritter writes "With the Oracle v. Google trial date set for next Monday, the Judge has asked Google and Oracle to take a position on whether a programming language is copyrightable. This presumably relates to whether Google violated copyright by using a variant of the Java language and its APIs in the Android framework. Oracle, who thinks it can be, has used J.R.R. Tolkein's Elvish language as an examples (PDF) of a language that can be copyrighted. Google disagrees (PDF)."

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Sure. (5, Insightful)

JustAnotherIdiot (1980292) | more than 2 years ago | (#39677291)

Just don't expect anyone to take interest in your language if you copyright it.

My ass (1, Interesting)

HBI (604924) | more than 2 years ago | (#39677339)

A! Elbereth Gilthoniel!
silivren penna míriel
o menel aglar elenath,
Gilthoniel, A! Elbereth!

We still remember, we who dwell
In this far land beneath the trees
The starlight on the western seas

Re:My ass (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39677593)

elen sila lumen omentilmo

Re:My ass (4, Funny)

idontgno (624372) | more than 2 years ago | (#39677615)

I suspect engraving "Elbereth" [steelypips.org] on the floor wouldn't prevent Oracle from attacking me. More's the shame.

Re:My ass (4, Funny)

interval1066 (668936) | more than 2 years ago | (#39678069)

No, but a circle of protection engraved with Postgresql specific charms might.

Re:My ass (1)

bacon.frankfurter (2584789) | more than 2 years ago | (#39677621)

Sure, maybe that particular passage is copyrighted, but what about grammar and vocabulary?

Re:Sure. (1)

buchner.johannes (1139593) | more than 2 years ago | (#39677557)

Even if it were copyrightable. If it is made Open Source first, you can't come back later, declare it your property and compare it to Elvish.

Re:Sure. (5, Insightful)

Desler (1608317) | more than 2 years ago | (#39677611)

Being open source does not mean it isn't copyrighted...

Re:Sure. (1)

binarylarry (1338699) | more than 2 years ago | (#39677881)

It's specific way of copyrighting your creation.

Fuck oracle!

Re:Sure. (4, Informative)

nedlohs (1335013) | more than 2 years ago | (#39678169)

No, it's a specific way of licensing your creation.

Re:Sure. (1)

buchner.johannes (1139593) | more than 2 years ago | (#39678263)

yeah, granting copyright!

Java (1)

plopez (54068) | more than 2 years ago | (#39677687)

Hmmmmm...... I do believe Java is copyrighted. I guess that's why it never took off

Haven't we seen this? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39677307)

Didn't Sun already win this case against Microsoft?

Re:Haven't we seen this? (2)

Daniel Phillips (238627) | more than 2 years ago | (#39677475)

No.

Re:Haven't we seen this? (4, Informative)

js_sebastian (946118) | more than 2 years ago | (#39678025)

Didn't Sun already win this case against Microsoft?

AFAIK they won a trademark case, not a copyright case: Microsoft could not fork their own bastardization of Java and still call it Java.

Open Sores Fails AGAIN (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39677309)

I think its hilarious that people who chose Java because it was open sourced by Sun are now stuck dealing with Oracle, one of the most evil companies on the planet.

Even Apple is less evil than Oracle, but you Open Sores are stuck with with them.

Couldn't have happened to a more deserving group of people.

8==C=O=C=K=S=L=A=P==D ~~-.

Re:Open Sores Fails AGAIN (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39677373)

Dear CockSlap,

Why is it funny to you? Do you know anything about anything? What do you do for a living that makes you an expert on what language to choose for development?

What About Machine Language and Assembly? (5, Insightful)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 2 years ago | (#39677327)

If they were copyrighted, wouldn't the assembly and machine language folks get the last laugh? I mean, copyright lasts nearly forever now in the United States and the first guy who thought up what to call registers or how to represent them in a language or what shift left should look like or even the people who came up with RISC, CISC, etc would be laughing all the way to the bank ... right? I mean, even though it might just be a handful of instructions that interact with hardware, wouldn't this position make it just as copyrighted as the higher level languages which, in the end, depend on this stuff to interact with the hardware?

Re:What About Machine Language and Assembly? (2)

Galestar (1473827) | more than 2 years ago | (#39677421)

Oracle doesn't care about that stuff. They will say just about anything so that Larry Ellison can buy another yacht.

Would Oracle's PL/SQL Suffer the Same? (5, Insightful)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 2 years ago | (#39677497)

Oracle doesn't care about that stuff. They will say just about anything so that Larry Ellison can buy another yacht.

Uhhh well, they should. I mean Oracle's PL/SQL [wikipedia.org] is an extension of SQL which, would be copyrighted by someone from the long long ago. And if that person wanted to, they could basically say "Yeah, you know that language that your bread and butter runs on? It's infringing on my copyrights so you owe me ... gosh I don't know ... a hundred billion trillion dollars?"

And, like every other language, PL/SQL has to be turned into machine language at some point ...

Re:Would Oracle's PL/SQL Suffer the Same? (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39677747)

That someone would be...oh... IBM.

Re:Would Oracle's PL/SQL Suffer the Same? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39677933)

Don't you mean Intel?

Re:Would Oracle's PL/SQL Suffer the Same? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39678065)

And the judge in that case ruled that IBM didn't have a copyright on SQL because their source code contained inadequate copyright statements.

Re:What About Machine Language and Assembly? (2)

sunderland56 (621843) | more than 2 years ago | (#39677591)

Assembly language is different for different processors. I'm pretty sure that Intel has a copyright on x86 assembly, but that doesn't stop ARM from using a completely different assembly language on their processor.

Re:What About Machine Language and Assembly? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39677663)

I'm pretty sure that Intel has a copyright on x86 assembly

Nonsense. They do not.
How many times does this have to be repeated? You can't copyright ideas.
That's not some idealistic free software dream; it's the law.
You can copyright a specific assembler. You can copyright a particular document defining/describing an assembly language.
You can't copyright the language itself!

Re:What About Machine Language and Assembly? (3, Interesting)

Coffeesloth (669850) | more than 2 years ago | (#39677827)

I agree. You can copyright a derivative work of the language but not the language itself. For instance, you can copyright a book written in English but not the English language.

Re:What About Machine Language and Assembly? (2)

dzfoo (772245) | more than 2 years ago | (#39678107)

A programming language is not an idea; it is a creative product, like a novel or a song or a software program. It has rules and symbols. You cannot copyright the idea of a programming language, but the invention of a programming language is a specific manifestation or expression of that idea.

You can't copyright the English language because it has existed for centuries and nobody owns it specifically (plus, it's the de facto medium of expression of a mass of people), but you can copyright Elfish, or Klingon, or whatever language you happen invent.

It may not be adopted as a standard means of expression if you do so, but you can.

              -dZ.

Re:What About Machine Language and Assembly? (1)

cmtuan (897618) | more than 2 years ago | (#39677873)

If this is true, then does it mean that you can't create an assembly language that contains the ADD or MOV or LOAD instruction?

Re:What About Machine Language and Assembly? (5, Interesting)

Anne Thwacks (531696) | more than 2 years ago | (#39678235)

In the 1960's there were a bunch of law suits over this, which is why many modern assemblers have Really Stupid (TM) mnemonics. I remember TI as deliberately using stupid mnemonics so they could copyright them. This strategy was assisted by very poorly designed documentation:

A - this instruction affects some registers

B - This instruction does not affect some registers

etc

Hint A = Add, B = Branch (which means jump) but only real gurus knew this, because the documentation did not bother to tell you.

Re:What About Machine Language and Assembly? (1)

Maximum Prophet (716608) | more than 2 years ago | (#39677977)

Wouldn't George Boole own the copyright? Since he's been dead for ~150 years, he's unlikely to claim it.

Perhaps we should all start registering stuff like 01110011100111000111100111001110110101010, and if it accidentally appears in anyone's computer program, MP3 file, or any type of data file, we can sue them for all they're worth.

Also, since "Java" is an English word, and all the keywords in Java are also existing words, I don't think they have a leg to stand on.

Language Designers: If you really want to make a mint, make sure all your keywords are made up.

befillbop <
narcomf iCnt;;
belzip fString;
milplic ( iCnt %% 0/ iCnt mrph mrplz fString/ iCnt<<< ) <
fliptic iCnt;
>
>

Is that clear?

Re:What About Machine Language and Assembly? (2)

sl4shd0rk (755837) | more than 2 years ago | (#39678163)

If they were copyrighted, wouldn't the assembly and machine language folks get the last laugh?

Yep. Imagine the orgy of copyright lawsuits coming out if the judge rules languages are copyrightable.

Yes. (-1)

cpu6502 (1960974) | more than 2 years ago | (#39677335)

The Java language took time and effort to develop, so the original author may be granted (by the government) a monopoly over his creation for 20 years. Then it falls into public domain.

Where did the 20 years come from?
That's how long it should be - one generation.

Patents Versus Copyright (5, Informative)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 2 years ago | (#39677381)

Except that the title of this article clearly says "copyright" and the 20 year limit is what patents are in the states (although extensions and whatnot make that mean jack anyway). Enjoy your "one generation [wikipedia.org] " graph.

Re:Yes. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39677407)

The time and effort (sweat of the brow) argument doesn't matter in the US. That's not why copyright exists here, and does not entitle you to special government protection.

Re:Yes. (1)

Githaron (2462596) | more than 2 years ago | (#39677529)

The Java language took time and effort to develop, so the original author may be granted (by the government) a monopoly over his creation for 20 years. Then it falls into public domain.

Where did the 20 years come from? That's how long it should be - one generation.

First off, copyright does not need to be one generation long. Copyright's purpose is to create incentives to create content. To do that, assuming your business model is to sell content and not its complements, copyright only needs to be long enough to create a reasonable expectation of profit from works. I would say 10 years would be more than enough for that in most areas. Copyright is not supposed to be a means to do something once and then make money from it forever. Second off, a language is a means of expression not a expression itself. I can understand copyrighting an implementation of an API but I cannot understand copyrighting the API itself.

Re:Yes. (0)

Znork (31774) | more than 2 years ago | (#39678243)

If the purpose of copyright was to have an incentive for creating content then it would provide means by which the creators of such content were guaranteed payment or share of any profits.

However, the purpose of copyright is to maintain the cosy relationship between state and publishers and establishing control of channels, guaranteeing profitability for publishers and influence for the state.

Incentives for creation is just an excuse; there is and always has been a vast overproduction of content which ensures that the creator will always be the weak party in a deal, the creator needs the publisher, the publisher rarely needs a specific creator but can shop around among the piles of material by those willing to get screwed.

If it was actually about incentives the duration would be irrelevant, the creators would get paid from an incentive system (for example financed through a tax on the copies produced and sold by publishers) and it would be tuned to deliver the optimum incentive rather than a timeframe that is utterly useless for determining profitability.

Re:Yes. (1)

Daniel Phillips (238627) | more than 2 years ago | (#39677567)

You are making up the law. Good luck with that. You might have to start your own country to make it stick.

As far as I know, the question of whether a language can be copyrighted has never been tried in court, making this is a landmark case. Now "obviously" a language is functional and thus not copyrightable as an original creative work. But that is just my opinion as a reasonable individual with an interest in human progress. Whether or not the US courts are of a mind to act in the interest of human progress, and if I may say it, according to the intentions of the founders, is the burning question.

Re:Yes. (1)

Maximum Prophet (716608) | more than 2 years ago | (#39678039)

Now "obviously" a language is functional and thus not copyrightable as an original creative work

Elvish is not "functional", and thus is copyrightable.

Java is just a special collection of English words, and thus is not copyrightable any more than SQL is. Any specific Java program might be copyrightable.

Re:Yes. (3, Interesting)

Anne Thwacks (531696) | more than 2 years ago | (#39678259)

Elvish is not "functional", and thus is copyrightable.

IMHE it is every bit as functional as Lisp.

Re:Yes. (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39677617)

In the US only purely creative work can be copyrighted. Basically you can only copyright something if it has no practical application. This means that literature movies and music can be copyrighted but clothing, recipes and industrial design cannot. A fictional language (such as Klingon) could be argued to fall under the realm of copyright because it is not really practical. Google has a fairly strong case that a programming language is not copyrightable. The libraries written using that programming language in both compiled and uncompiled form would fall under copyright though.

Re:Yes. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39677777)

Is it still copyrightable if thousands of people learn to speak it as a secondary, or even sometimes PRIMARY language?

And at that point, what about cultural customs and likenesses (Since obviously the same people who learn to speak klingon fluently would also probably wish to own bat'leths, study klingon martial arts, and eventually have headplate prosthetics surgically installed.)

Seriously, I'd love to know.

Also why lucas can get a trademark or whatever on 'droid' even though it's pretty obviously a contraction of android and thus should be paying royalties to the estate of Asimov. :D

Re:Yes. (1)

MetalOne (564360) | more than 2 years ago | (#39678185)

you can only copyright something if it has no practical application

So why the exception for code libraries? or applications?

What is a language? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39677353)

I can see how the runes for Elvish could be copyrighted and how the text of the Java langauge specification can be copyrighted, but the language itself is much slipperier. Programming languages are often defined by a set of syntax rules written in BNF. But the BNF is not the language. What is, exactly? Not easy to define, let alone copyright.

Re:What is a language? (2)

sunderland56 (621843) | more than 2 years ago | (#39677603)

Elvish is a very poor example here. It is not a language; it is a portion of a larger work of fiction. Books can be copyrighted, so something that exists solely in a book is part of that copyright.

Re:What is a language? (1)

plopez (54068) | more than 2 years ago | (#39677767)

Maybe BNF should be considered tools used to create a language. More like an artist's brush and paints. It facilitates the work but is not the work. It is a meta-work in a sense. And since it is from academia it is free as in liberty, i.e. you are free to do with it what you will.

Re:What is a language? (1)

mfwitten (1906728) | more than 2 years ago | (#39678181)

Is it not a creative description to identify an algorithmic construct (such as an iterative loop) with a particular identifier ("for" or "while" or "foreach"), etc? Is it not a creative description to identify a function as "getWidgetAndSendNotification" or a variable as "man_has_a_green_hat"?

These are creative choices that people are making in order to convey information. Why shouldn't it be covered by copyright? (If you're going to insist on having something like copyright.)

Embrace Extend? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39677355)

Did Google do an Embrace Extend of Java?

http://developer.android.com/guide/basics/what-is-android.html [android.com]

They say its Java, but android applications are incompatible with the official Java standard.

Wonder what the fanboys would say if this was MS doing it...

Re:Embrace Extend? (4, Informative)

ppanon (16583) | more than 2 years ago | (#39677547)

Thing is, while some third-party books do claim to "Teach ... Java for Android", as far as I know Google has never claimed that Dalvik is Java. Whereas for a typical embrace and extend, be it Kerberos or Java, Microsoft did claim that their extended fork was still Java, and marketed it as such. The Microsoft lawsuit was really about the use of the Java trademark (hence why Microsoft renamed their product J++), and not a copyright infringement case. So that case doesn't really apply as precedent here and it would seem that Oracle is overreaching.

Re:Embrace Extend? (2)

binarylarry (1338699) | more than 2 years ago | (#39677901)

They say it's Android and you can program for it using the Java language.

They don't claim to have 100% compatibility with the Java platform.

Derivative work of C/C++ (5, Insightful)

Luthair (847766) | more than 2 years ago | (#39677385)

Since Java borrows a lot of syntax from from C/C++ wouldn't that make it a derivative work ;)

Re:Derivative work of C/C++ (1)

SJHillman (1966756) | more than 2 years ago | (#39677469)

Depends on whether the syntax is the creative part. If you copyright a textbook, the facts and figures are not protected, only any creative elements are.

Re:Derivative work of C/C++ (2)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 2 years ago | (#39678047)

It copies a lot of semantics from Smalltalk and Objective-C. If either can be copyrighted then they're infringing the copyright of others, if neither can then they don't have anything that can be copyrighted.

Re:Derivative work of C/C++ (1)

fbartho (840012) | more than 2 years ago | (#39678049)

If the syntax *isn't* the creative part, then what is?

Re:Derivative work of C/C++ (1)

SJHillman (1966756) | more than 2 years ago | (#39678195)

The whitespace* of course!

*I don't know enough Java to know whether it even gives a damn about whitespace

Re:Derivative work of C/C++ (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39677523)

Doesn't matter. Disney made a fortune mining the public domain and producing works that are copyrightred to this day.

Re:Derivative work of C/C++ (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39677639)

At one time SCO said they own C++ ( see http://lwn.net/Articles/39227/ ). Looks like SCO will finally get their payday ;-)

What is Java? (4, Interesting)

swm (171547) | more than 2 years ago | (#39677461)

The technical definition of the Java language is "the set of all Java programs".
This is an infinite set.
Therefore, it cannot be fixed in a tangible medium.
Therefore, it it is ineligible for copyright protection.

Re:What is Java? (1)

idlehanz (1262698) | more than 2 years ago | (#39677507)

Of all my references, circular are my favorite.

Re:What is Java? (1)

idontgno (624372) | more than 2 years ago | (#39677643)

I like circular references as much as I like circular references, which is as much as I like circular references.

Re:What is Java? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39677655)

The technical definition of the Java language is "the set of all Java programs".
This is an infinite set.

I had a raw snark answer, but decided I'd just use the real counter. "The set of all Java programs" is very finite, "the set of all possible Java programs" may be infinite. By using the first, your second claim is false, therefore your therefores are not there.

Re:What is Java? (1)

plopez (54068) | more than 2 years ago | (#39677841)

But you can construct a method to create an infinite set. Classic example. Begin with the empty set and a few small operations e.g. containment, and union. You then define a set of cardinality 1 as a set that contains the null set, cardinality 2 would be a set that contains a set which contains an empty set. You then have the whole numbers which is a (countably) infinite set. Java is more like the method used to build the countably infinite set of programs. You are confusing the sausage with the sausage maker.

But not SQL (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39677493)

When it came to SQL, Larry decided it was easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.

goto: Elbereth ? (5, Insightful)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | more than 2 years ago | (#39677503)

Oracle, who thinks it can be, has used J.R.R. Tolkein's Elvish language as an example of a language that can be copyrighted.

Sure, but I wasn't aware that was a *programming* language.

Re:goto: Elbereth ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39677573)

Sure it was. Check out that password prompt for Moria in the first movie. "Speak 'friend' and enter," right? Not very secure, but it's dwarves we're talking about here--they couldn't keep anything secure if their lives depended on it.

Re:goto: Elbereth ? (1)

dgatwood (11270) | more than 2 years ago | (#39677673)

I suspect that Elvish can't really be copyrighted either. It just hasn't been struck down in the courts yet. That said, to the extent that it might be copyrightable, it would be the non-Latin alphabet, not the words, that are protectable by virtue of their having been designed, and thus, a creative work in and of themselves.

If I copyright a novel, I can't sue someone who happened to use 30% of the same words in a completely different order to express a completely different thought. The fact that the words are different collections of letters than were previously used is immaterial. Once used, their meaning is now a fact, which is inherently not protectable by copyright, and their letters are existing Latin alphabetic characters, which are also not protectable by copyright.

There is exactly no chance that a programming language can be copyrighted. The EU courts already ruled on this, and I'd be shocked if the U.S. courts ruled differently.

Re:goto: Elbereth ? (3, Interesting)

tepples (727027) | more than 2 years ago | (#39677925)

to the extent that it might be copyrightable, it would be the non-Latin alphabet

I was under the impression that alphabets, typography, and calligraphy weren't copyrightable in the home country of Oracle, Google, and Slashdot. Code of Federal Regulations, Ch 37, Sec. 202.1(e); Eltra Corp. v. Ringer; Copyright Office Practices 503.02(a). See Wikipedia:Public domain#Fonts [wikipedia.org] . Fonts can be subject to a design patent, but unlike a copyright, a design patent has to be applied for, and a design patent expires.

lol (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39677505)

"From my grave! I stab at thee Google."

*Imagines this spoken by J.R.R. Tolkien in a LOTR-style heroic voice*

Go, Renderscript, and Android (2, Interesting)

slew (2918) | more than 2 years ago | (#39677539)

Of course Java can't be copyrighted, but Go, Renderscript and the Android library interface can be copyrighted?

IANAL, but on the other hand, if no computer language or library API can enjoy copyright protection, then it appears to me that it doesn't have GPL or Creative Commons protection either (since being required to follow these licences follows from the copyright holder's discretion)...

Be careful what you wish for google...

Re:Go, Renderscript, and Android (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39677609)

I believe they refer to the language itself, not the implementation. The current C Programming specification (C11) is available for download. I think you have to pay a fee to download it, earlier drafts should be free. It is then up to X, Y and Z companies to implement the C programming language and libraries according to the specification. It is then those implementations the ones that are copyrighted.

In other words, if tomorrow we decide to wake up and write a new Java compiler and Java runtime, we just need to follow the specification. We may however, as part of our license dictate that every time you run our Java virtual machine you must wiggle your left foot over the top of the monitor whilst drinking a hot cup of Java [don't try that at home]. We can do this because this is our implementation.

Specifications themselves are allegedly copyright (1)

slew (2918) | more than 2 years ago | (#39678207)

FWIW, at least in the C programming case, the ISO/IEC claims copyright of the specifcation itself. ISO/IEC sells the specification (called 14882:2011) and says you can't copy the specification without a license [iso.org] from them.

Of course, the question is not if someone copies the java (or c) language spec word-for-word (e.g, photo or electronic copy), but if someone made a derivative of this work (say an implementation with its own reference or subset specification) if it subject to being considered having a derivative work liability of the underlying original work. Ironically, if google did not make a derivative java, it might actually be in a better position as most of java itself likely considered to be derivative and the non-derivative parts (say the stuff java borrowed from c) are not subject to copyright protection and if they did not copy the specification itself.

IANAL, maybe yes, maybe no, but my original point was to be careful what you wish for as the same thing could be done on to you...

Re:Go, Renderscript, and Android (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39677981)

You're arguing that because the English language can't be copyrighted, that all books written in that language can't be copyrighted?

Think about this way - in order for something to copyrighted it has to have defined content - essentially it has to be identifiable from similar items in the same field.

So a library, which is a defined set can be copyrighted - the language in which it is written, which has no defined set and can contain infinite variations, cannot be.

*Note - I can't believe we're splitting hairs over whether various implementations of what is essentially mathematical representations of logic, can be copyrighted :S Lets just ditch this stupid shit before it becomes illegal to even have new ideas... please?

Re:Go, Renderscript, and Android (1)

larry bagina (561269) | more than 2 years ago | (#39678237)

Nobody (with an exception for retards and FUDge packers) claims APIs are covered by the GPL.

Any lawyers here? (5, Interesting)

nine-times (778537) | more than 2 years ago | (#39677563)

I'm totally baffled by this and would like an explanation of how a language could possibly be copyrighted. Is Tolkein's Elvish language copyrighted, and if so, what does that mean? I can understand specific phrases from his books being copyrighted, but if I translated this post into Elvish, does Tolkein's estate suddenly own the copyright to this post? Or what?

Sorry, but the idea of owning the copyright to a language seems silly. I might understand patenting a use of a language or patenting a method of translation, but the language itself? Doesn't copyright need to apply to a specific expression? Like... I can copyright the image of a painting, but I can't copyright paint.

Re:Any lawyers here? (1)

CaptBubba (696284) | more than 2 years ago | (#39677879)

The words are under copyright because Tolkien created them and defined their associated meaning. You would be perfectly fine with using the script (typefaces are not subject to copyright in the US, they are in the UK) but because all of the meanings for the words come from Tolkien having defined a combination of sounds/letters as "meaning" something a translation would be a derivative of Tolkien's creative work. It is akin to the difference between painting a new image and using someone else's paintings in a mosaic to create a new piece of art.

That said I don't think that such an argument really applies to functional things such as a programming language.

Oracle silliness (5, Insightful)

swillden (191260) | more than 2 years ago | (#39677619)

I suppose lawyers have an ethical duty to argue every point that reasonably could help their client, but this is silly. I really like the comments in a couple of the footnotes in Google's response:

Similarly, fictional languages such as Na’vi and Dothraki cannot be copyrighted. While the film Avatar and the television series Game of Thrones are copyrightable (including the portions in the fictional Na’vi and Dothraki languages), and while, for example, a dictionary or grammar textbook for either language would be copyrightable, the languages themselves are not. Oracle asks why copyright should not protect such languages, see Oracle 4/5/12 Br. [Dkt. 859] at 9; the answer is that Section 102(b) says that they are not protected. Moreover, there is no reason to believe that allowing copyright owners to control who can express themselves in these languages would further the aims of copyright law.

Umm, duh. Do they really want to argue that, say, stating "Your mother is ugly" or some other random sentence in, say, Dothraki is a public performance of a copyrighted work? That's what it would have to be if the language itself were copyrightable.

Even clearer, though:

Oracle also argues that a computer language can be “original, text-based, and capable of fixation,” and thus that it must be copyrightable. See Oracle 4/5/12 Br. [Dkt. 859] at 9. First, Section 102(b) bars copyright protection for “original works of authorship” that fall within its enumerated classes of exclusion. See 17 U.S.C. 102(b). Thus, the fact that a system is original, text-based and fixed does not mean that Section 102(b) does not apply. Second, a language cannot be fixed. Certainly, a description of a language (e.g., a specification) can be fixed. A computer program written using the language (e.g., the Gmail application on Android phones) or an implementation of a language (e.g., a compiler or interpreter) can be fixed. But none of those things is “the language,” any more than a dictionary “is” English, Das Boot “is” German, or a C compiler “is” the C programming language. See Baker, 101 U.S. at 102 (“But' there is a clear distinction between the book, as such, and the art which it is intended to illustrate. The mere statement of the proposition is so evident, that it requires hardly any argument to support it.”); cf. René Magritte, La trahison des images.

Exactly. How can you write down a "language"? You can describe it. You can list the allowable words and explain how they can and cannot be put together, but such a description isn't a language. You can use it. You can create prose, poetry, or, computer programs with it, expressing and fixing your own ideas in the constructs provided by the language, but an expression in a language isn't the language.

A language is about as pure an abstract idea as I can imagine, and ideas are not copyrightable, only expressions.

(Disclaimer: I work for Google, but have nothing to do with any of this Java folderol, other than using the language occasionally. I'm a programmer but not a language expert and would not be qualified to offer expert testimony on this topic, even if I were asked to, which I haven't been. Other than the quotes, the above is my own opinions, nothing more. In this case it appears that they align closely with Google's officially-stated opinions, however!)

Re:Oracle silliness (4, Insightful)

Derekloffin (741455) | more than 2 years ago | (#39677929)

It goes beyond just that silliness too. Let's just give for a second that a programming language is copyrightable. Well, derivative works are also automatically copyrighted too, and Java is derivative of C++ and C before it, and probably something before that, and none of those have expired. Plus, forward facing, all use of Java of would be copyrighted too. So, suddenly, you'd have every business using Java pissed at Oracle for claiming copyright on their work, but not only that, Oracle has thrown the door wide open for being sued themselves for copyright infringement on a vast scale. Yeah, this is an argument you want to go down in flames, and really even Oracle, they may not realize it, but they too want it to go down in flames as well.

Re:Oracle silliness (1)

js_sebastian (946118) | more than 2 years ago | (#39678105)

See Baker, 101 U.S. at 102 (“But' there is a clear distinction between the book, as such, and the art which it is intended to illustrate. The mere statement of the proposition is so evident, that it requires hardly any argument to support it.”); cf. René Magritte, La trahison des images.

And, by quoting Magritte in his argument this lawyer has increased my respect of the entire profession by 7%...

Interesting question for the judge to ask (3, Insightful)

SkOink (212592) | more than 2 years ago | (#39677635)

I have to admit, I'm impressed with the judge's question. I'd agree that this is really what's at the heart of the matter, and I'm glad that the judge is asking it. It certainly seems like he's taken the time to do his homework into programming languages and computing.

If Your Language Can Be Copyrighted (4, Insightful)

Greyfox (87712) | more than 2 years ago | (#39677653)

Then every program in that language must therefore be a derivative work. If a judge finds that a language can be copyrighted, there would be no reason why Oracle could not claim every single java program ever written is a derivative work based on their copyright. I'm pretty sure their license does not have an exclusion for that, either.

What about the language should be considered copyrightable? The keywords? Because Java looks a lot like many other languages. Perhaps the creators of those languages should sue Oracle for Copyright Infringement, then. Oracle's class and function layout looks a LOT like C and C++.

Is it the standard library? Would a clean room implementation of a published API be considered copyright infringement? I think there are precedents that it would not, at least going back to the IBM PC BIOS reverse-engineering.

Is it the idea of object orientation? That was around long before Sun released Java. I have a LISP textbook I got in the '80s that showed a lisp program doing object-oriented kinds of things with lisp data structures.

Attempting to copyright any of these things would run you afoul of the people who actually invented them. In theory you could patent aspects of your language (And they probably did) but doesn't last nearly as long as copyright would.

Re:If Your Language Can Be Copyrighted (1)

BrownLeopard (876112) | more than 2 years ago | (#39677769)

I'm going to copyright the following: if() { } if() { } else { } if { } else if() { } Then sue every programming language that uses these statements. That's how I think Google should react to this. Java uses statements, constructs and expressions that other languages use, therefore how can they honestly say that their language is not a derivative of whatever language all of this came from?

Re:If Your Language Can Be Copyrighted (1)

c_sd_m (995261) | more than 2 years ago | (#39677847)

Huh, I guess it's back to Delphi now. Never thought I'd say that.

Good grief (2)

stevenfuzz (2510476) | more than 2 years ago | (#39677703)

I hate oracle. I hate oracle at work. I hate reading about oracle. I hate that oracle is now in control of Java. Oracle is just like Sun, only the exact opposite.

This case suddenly became a lot more important (5, Insightful)

ilsaloving (1534307) | more than 2 years ago | (#39677719)

And in one fel swoop, this case has gone from simple money grabbing to downright surreal. To decide whether a language itself can be copyright-able is going to be incredibly significant, regardless of which way the final decision goes, and I'm believe it was unwise for Oracle to even raise this issue.

If a programming language cannot be copyrighted, then their whole argument goes down the tubes and they can potentially lose a lot more than just this lawsuit. They could conceivably lose control of java.

If a programming language CAN be copyrighted, I expect to see a flurry of lawsuits as different language authors start suing one another for "stealing" parts of "their" language. The vast majority, if not all, of java syntax is directly lifted from other languages. There is absolutely nothing unique about Java's grammar.

I am going to be very interested now in the outcome of this case.

Re:This case suddenly became a lot more important (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39677853)

If a programming language CAN be copyrighted, I expect to see a flurry of lawsuits as different language authors start suing one another for "stealing" parts of "their" language. The vast majority, if not all, of java syntax is directly lifted from other languages. There is absolutely nothing unique about Java's grammar.

I am going to be very interested now in the outcome of this case.

Delphi Maul: At last we will reveal ourselves to the C# team. At last we will have revenge.

Re:This case suddenly became a lot more important (4, Interesting)

JamesP (688957) | more than 2 years ago | (#39677955)

Yes

I sincerely think Google should quietly buy the copyright to C/C++ before this

Then let Oracle go ahead with this.

As soon as Oracle gets copyright protection on languages google does 2 things:

1 - (motion to) Block the sale/usage of anything Java since Java comes from C/C++
2 - (motion to) Block the use of anything written in C/C++: Oracle products, JVM, etc, etc

Losing Android at this point is merely an annoyance.

Congratulation Oracle, if that's what you want, that's what you get.

High Elvish/High-Level Programming Languages (1)

_0x783czar (2516522) | more than 2 years ago | (#39677789)

Its true that you can copyright a language. But to use the Languages of Middle-Earth as an example is not the best argument. The Tolkien Languages' copyrights are not heavily enforced. For instance the word "Orc", decidedly a Tolkien invention, is used widely by many different fantasy franchises.
The argument in my mind is not weather a Programming Language can be copyrighted, but whether they should be. Or rather, where do you draw the line of fair use.
One way or another, Oracle does need to be careful how they tread here, since Java IS a heavily derivative work itself.

Re:High Elvish/High-Level Programming Languages (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39678005)

I agree. Bjarne Stroustrup should intervene here for the fate of middle earth, and toss Oracle into Mount C++. In fact a fellowship of travellers should be formed for this very purpose. Oracle rips off more than just C++, for example Smalltalk anyone? IBM could throw their weight into this too. In fact, they should have a vested interest in stopping Oracle since they themselves have written and also use a lot of Java software. Once Oracle gets done attacking Google successfully they're going to turn their Eye on the lands of men and eventually no place will be safe, not even the shire.

Re:High Elvish/High-Level Programming Languages (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39678031)

Orc isn't a Tolkien invention any more than the term "elf". Tolkien used these terms in a slightly different way and redefined fantasy using them, but he didn't invent either. Orc, in case you were wondering, is derived from the Latin word "kill" or "killer". Hence the marine mammal "orca" or "killer whale".

Re:High Elvish/High-Level Programming Languages (2)

js_sebastian (946118) | more than 2 years ago | (#39678153)

Its true that you can copyright a language. But to use the Languages of Middle-Earth as an example is not the best argument. The Tolkien Languages' copyrights are not heavily enforced. For instance the word "Orc", decidedly a Tolkien invention,

Not it's not, it's an old english word, used in beowulf for instance... Tolkien did not invent the word orc any more than he invented the word elf. OTOH, the orcs and elves of modern fantasy obviously owe a lot to how Tolkien imagined them.

I guess I don't understand the question at all... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39677805)

If a computer language can by copyrighted does that imply that a natural language can also be coyprighted ?
What about mathematics ? Can the language of mathematics be copyrighted ?

Stupid (1)

sudden.zero (981475) | more than 2 years ago | (#39677821)

Okay, even if you could copyright a programming language, which would make the language pointless except for use by the owner, once you deem something open source that makes copyrighting it not an option. That is like a candy store owner saying "Here little boy would you like a free candy bar" the little boy says "Sure I'll take a free candy bar." Then the owner calls security and says that the little boy stole the candy bar and demands payment. I CALL SHENANIGANS!

Can they do that? (1)

PFritz21 (766949) | more than 2 years ago | (#39677839)

Uh, I thought Java was open source now...

Not CAN it, but WAS it. (0)

gatkinso (15975) | more than 2 years ago | (#39677843)

Regardless of if they can copyright Java.... did they?

I'm afraid Oracle may be right (2)

Skapare (16644) | more than 2 years ago | (#39678007)

The very concept of a programming language that fulfills a particular need (portability, for example) is the idea. The creation of Java [wikipedia.org] , and all the symbols and names of the language, is an expression of that idea. The creation of another language that operates similarly, but sufficiently different in symbols and names to be clear that it is not a derived work (for example, the Forth language [wikipedia.org] ), but is a new and original expression, could be an expression of that same idea (though not exactly in this case). So I'm afraid that Oracle [wikipedia.org] , as much as I hate it, may be right on this one.

While I believe that it can be argued that programs written in Java are not expressions of Java, the difficulty is whether the expression of a compiler containing the same collection of symbols and names is, or is not, a derived work. I believe that it is ... because it cannot be shown that the set of symbols and names came from another source or is an original creation. We know it came from Java.

A language may also be patentable (e.g. this set of components, symbols, names, and semantics, is an innovative solution to that problem), especially under our messed up patent system. But that's not arguable in this case as far as I know.

Maybe Google should just shift Android over to Go [wikipedia.org] or Dart [wikipedia.org] or something.

Hebrew (1)

roman_mir (125474) | more than 2 years ago | (#39678043)

So if this holds water and people abroad follow these news, they can also start their own interesting cases of litigation, where it goes even beyond computer languages.

How about Hebrew? There are about 8 million people around the world who speak it and it's quite artificial [wikipedia.org] . I am not sure that his descendants will go as far as declare copyright (didn't Tolkien's relatives do just that), but the possibility would be there.

Could it mean that 8 million around the world, and specifically 5 million in Israel would be on a hook for royalty payments? After all, many of them speak it on everyday basis.

Form of expression / voice not copyrightable. (1)

achowe (829564) | more than 2 years ago | (#39678097)

Imagine if France claimed copyright over Quebec or Spain claimed copyright over
Mexico. When you create a language you expect it to spread over many regions
in the name of trade and politics. Same applies to a computing language that
spread because its popular, politically correct, and/or simply better.

Spoken languages evolve over time, likewise computing languages. The latter
however aim to find consistency to avoid code portability issues after the initial
adoption period. Still that does not entitle copyright; language has to be able
to evolve to remain active, consider Cobol like Latin.

If you copyright a language spoken, written, or computing, no one would use it.

Derivative Works? (3, Insightful)

Bob9113 (14996) | more than 2 years ago | (#39678099)

Copyright includes the notion of derivative works. Java is an excellent example of a derivative work, borrowing most of its core syntax from C. Oracle is effectively proposing that Dennis Ritchie's estate owns a huge swath of the language space; Objective C, ECMAScript, Java, C++, C# -- a big chunk of commercial programming is done in languages that are not even distant derivations, but nearly direct copies.

Ask IBM about FORTRAN (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39678143)

I believe they lost this fight.

Yuo Fa@il It (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39678203)

Wash oof Hands [goat.cx]

Java looks a lot like C and C++ (1)

nedlohs (1335013) | more than 2 years ago | (#39678251)

Surely this isn't an argument Oracle wants to win?

Since they'll be on the hook for far more than they'll win if their argument becomes the legal interpretation...

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