Why Developers Should Care About Oracle's Upcoming Appeal of the Google Lawsuit

US District Judge William Alsup

Pictured (left): U.S. District Judge William Alsup

You could hear a collective sigh of relief from the software developer world when Judge William Alsup issued his ruling in the Oracle-Google lawsuit. Oracle lost on pretty much every point, but the thing that must have stuck most firmly in Oracle’s throat was this:

“So long as the specific code used to implement a method is different, anyone is free under the Copyright Act to write his or her own code to carry out exactly the same function or specification of any methods used in the Java API. It does not matter that the declaration or method header lines are identical. Under the rules of Java, they must be identical to declare a method specifying the same functionality — even when the implementation is different…”

TL;DR… APIs are not copyrightable. Sign the White House petition in support of open APIs.

Now the legal appeal of the decision is underway. Microsoft and IBM (via the Business Software Alliance), amongst others, have filed friend-of-the-court briefs in support of Oracle. The ruling has a lot of entrenched corporate heavyweights up in arms – and you can bet that the common denominator is about defending the aging Empire from the startup Foundation.

This lineup of friend-of-the-court briefs is alarming. Why? Their collective argument is that Judge Alsup’s ruling is bad for business. It may in fact be bad for the old guard’s business that is increasingly threatened by changes driven by open source and cloud-based services. But make no mistake: if Judge Alsup’s ruling is overturned on appeal, it’s not going to be in your interest as a software professional.

Oracle lost in their attempt to protect their position using patents. If they succeed in claiming you need their permission to use the Java APIs that they pushed as a community standard, software developers and innovation will be the losers.

CloudBees sits on the Java Community Process (JCP) Executive Committee. We are working with others inside the JCP to advance the current rules to be more in sync with the fork-friendly open source and cloud world. We believe that Oracle’s quest for a legal stranglehold on the Java API, which itself has been advanced through the Java Community Process, has nothing to do with compatibility and everything to do with cashing in on Java at the expense of the community.

With the IT industry shifting from packaged software to a cloud-based service model, this debate becomes even more important. As companies increasingly invest in SaaS, PaaS and IaaS solutions, their entire operations will depend on third-party APIs. Formal standards are only just emerging, and adding FUD over the legal standing of API usage is going to place a drag on the industry.

The debate is this: will our economy thrive and be more competitive because companies can easily switch from one service provider to the other, by leveraging identical APIs; or, will we allow vendors to inhibit competition through API lock-in? And, should this happen only because a handful of legacy software vendors want to protect their franchise a few more years? This decision will impact us for decades to come.

Developers: Your long-term livelihood, the richness of technology choices, and the competitiveness of our industry are at stake.

If you agree with us, please register your vote on the White House petition, started by Kohsuke Kawaguchi.

Sacha Labourey, CEO
Steven G. Harris, SVP of Products
CloudBees, Inc.

You can also learn more on the APIs are not Copyrightable Facebook page.