Oracle copying SCO playbook for Google fight

Copying claims aren't as solid as they sound

Oracle has amended its complaint against Google to include copyright claims, saying that Google "directly copied" code from Java's API packages. The claims are getting a bit more sympathy for Oracle, since many folks regard software patents as a nuisance, but plagiarism has no friends. But not so fast — there's much more here than it seems.

The problem is that most of the people who are looking at the "line by line" example don't actually understand code. SCO did this, through the same legal team (Boies Schiller) with its claims that Linux had direct copied code from UnixWare. That was debunked pretty quickly. The only thing missing here is Larry Ellison running around issuing open letters or ranting about Google to anyone who will listen. Never let it be said that Ellison isn't classier than Darl McBride.

Boies Schiller has roped in some tech journalists with the same song and dance that it used to sway Linux critics in 2002 and 2003. Until they started realizing that the copying claims were boilerplate code and other pieces that really don't indicate copying so much as standard ways to do things. It's like looking at two Web pages and saying "they must have copied this," because they start with <head> and <title> elements. That's oversimplifying, but it would be a good idea to look into the claim more deeply than eyeballing two code samples provided by Oracle's legal team.

And someone did, and lo and behold, Oracle's legal team seems to be playing fast and loose with the facts.

Carlo Daffara, an open source advocate and developer with some fairly decent credentials took a look at the code and has come to a different conclusion: One, its origin is probably from the Apache Harmony project. Two, it's not entirely clear that Oracle's Java APIs are protected and copyrighted. Three, it's probably not a straight copy at any rate. Head over to Daffara's site for the line-up, but if this is a representative example of Oracle's claims, its case is pretty weak.

But we knew that already after Google's response to the initial patent claims levied by Oracle.

The idea that Google has no mechanisms in place to prevent copying code is, well, not very plausible. The idea that Google has deliberately copied proprietary code and shipped it as part of an open source project anyone can examine is even less plausible. Google may no longer be the "do no evil" company, but I feel fairly confident that Google does know how to develop and ship code without copyright infringement.

Whether Oracle can convince a court that it has a legitimate patent case against Google, I have no idea. Patents simply have no place in the software industry, but until the courts get a clue, we're stuck with cowardly legal attacks from businesses that can't actually compete. But this copyright claim? Unless Oracle is holding back something much more convincing, and unless Google has had a complete and total failure of code management, you'd be wise not to buy into these claims at face value.

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