December 19, 2014

The Latest Speculation on Oracle's Suit Against Google

Recently blogger Florian Mueller made a claim that Android copies as many as 43 files directly from Java source code. With Oracle currently suing Google, stating that Android includes code decompiled from Java 2 Standard Edition and redistributed under the Apache open source license without permission, Engadget and several other high profile sites picked up Mueller’s post and it got a lot of attention.

Now if Mueller is right, that would cause a ruckus, wouldn’t it?

But here comes Ed Burnette, open source advocate and actual developer. He looked into the files Mueller highlighted.

What are the files in question?  They are broken into two sets:

PolicyNodeImpl.java, AclEntryImpl.java, AclImpl.java, GroupImpl.java, OwnerImpl.java, PermissionImpl.java, and PrincipalImpl.java

The files above are housed in the Android test area and perform no vital function in the operation of the Android OS.

Ed Burnette had this to say about these 7 files:

“Sun published those files on its web site to help developers debug and test their own code. For some reason, the Android or Harmony developer who was using them decompiled and rebuilt them instead of just using the ones from Sun. Later an Apache license got incorrectly pasted to the top of the files, perhaps by some automated script.”

The second set is a zip archive of 37 files called MMAPI.zip, which resides in a directory for native code audio drivers. It’s designed for just one chipset and also doesn’t ship with the Android OS. It appears to be another test file mistakenly packaged with the other files.

That’s all the infringements right there. If the files were not vital to the Android OS why were they there? Plain user or bot error. One set of files was for testing, which doesn’t ship with any device. And the other was just a file that hitched a ride and had no function in the OS.

All that seems harmless, but Oracle doesn’t think so. Oracle really doesn’t care if the files were vital to the Android OS. The fact was that the suspected code was copyrighted by Oracle and not licensed to Google for distribution. That’s what they care about.

Google recently removed all the files from the source code. Looks like problem solved right?

Nope, we still have a lawsuit on our hands for copyright infringement.

Here is some insight into the court case from Groklaw:

The bottom line is this: none of us in the public would know at this point if any code was infringed or not, not you, not me, not Florian. Even if Oracle were feeding him inside information, he still wouldn’t know, because Oracle doesn’t know yet. Neither does Google. We are all in suspension until discovery is done and analysis of the code by the experts in the court case.

The waters being tread in the court room are muddy. Way muddy, we’re talking months of analysis, combing over the code and its history. It’s too early to declare a winner or even to accurately know what’s really going on. But those are the facts.

What do you think of this mess? Any lawyers want to ring in on this?



  • ChaosKiller

    I miss Sun :( They weren’t the bastards Oracle are…

  • Jake

    I don’t think defending their intellectual property makes the folks at Oracle bastards. The fact is Google distributed copyrighted files without licensing or giving proper attribution to the owner. Whether the distribution was intentional or or critical to the Android OS is inconsequential.

    If I write and record a piece of music, then Toyota uses it in a commercial without asking me or paying me or it, you bet I’m gonna sue! I’m entitled to payment and attribution.

    • mark

      Jake, but I would think there’s a difference in what Oracle could go after. If these are test files readily and freely available for testing, and Google left them in a path that is not used in production and can simply be deleted, than I don’t think Oracle could get much in the way of license fees or damages. Of course, this is America, where one can sue for a million dollars for being clumsy. (well, i guess now you can’t, they tell you your hot coffee is hot now).

      But the bigger reason why these “files” aren’t newsworthy in my opinion:
      Oracle’s suit doesn’t look like it ever mentions them. They sound like they were out there in the open, yet this is the first we hear of it. It seems like this is not what has got Oracle’s knickers bunched up. They are suing about technology used in the core functionality of the OS itself, the Davlik Java VM. Just my thinking.

    • Canuck

      Jake: you have to prove harm, not just infringement. What actual harm did Oracle suffer (lost sales, etc.) from having these files available for unauthorized download for a while (but not actually shipped in Android phones). $10K worth? $100K? Even that’s pushing it. I can’t see any award coming close even to covering Oracle’s legal fees, and since it was clearly accidental, it’s hard to justify heavy punitive damages, either.

      • Will

        Both Canuck and Jake are correct. The real question is, what constitutes harm?

        Oracle could “legitimately” say that because Google did not properly attribute these files, Oracle lost potential customers because the potential customers did not know that those “‘great’ test files” — although free and not included in the final shipping product from Google — were written by those “brilliant” Oracle (formerly Sun) engineers. Please note that when I write “legitimately” I do not mean that I agree with this line of argument, only that the argument (and such like it) cannot be dismissed out of hand.

        It’s like if you’re a professional artist, paint a work of art and give it to someone for free who signs their name to it (or even a third person’s name, as long as it was not your name) and hangs it on their bedroom wall. If someone else comes into that someone’s house and admires that painting, they have no way of knowing you are the artist who painted it; potentially depriving you of income even though you gave away the original painting for free. That is (a rough analogy of) the situation between Google and Oracle.

        Personally, I should add, I hope Oracle’s suit will ultimately be found baseless but right now, as the Groklaw quote quotes, no one can say.

    • http://dangerismymiddlename.com Paul Danger Kile

      Java 2 is available to everyone for $0, which is exactly how much harm was done.

    • Matthew Tikiman

      shut up you cant patent everything it impedes technological growth you need some morals

  • HateOracle

    Oracle makes me sick.
    Lawyers make me sick.
    Software patents make me sick.

  • To Jake

    Jake:

    If Mozart had patented the note C, D and E – your music would have sucked, or had even been impossible to create.

    That is the problem with software patents. People patenting building blocks. It just does not make sense.

  • Canuck

    What do I think? Oracle has decided it would rather be a pathetic litigation troll like SCO than, well, a major IT company like Oracle. Too bad – once (a long time ago), they did some good stuff. I guess they’ve decided that they’ve run out of creative energy.

  • Danny Livewire

    @ Canuck … how much you want to bet it’s executives who have no idea about technology or a board filled with bozos who are behind this? I would say that’s a safe bet to make.

  • xtrememorph

    The only person winning here are the lawyers. The money would definitely have better use but than again the world has gone insane.