Copyright conundrum in Oracle-Google case: Is a computer language fair game?
The final outcome of Oracle-Google trial will determine whether computer programming languages are subject to copyright law.
In the case of computer programs, this means that a given set of statements or instructions may be protected, but the protection does not extend to the method of operation or system -- the programming language -- by which they are understood by the computer. In copyright terms, the set of statements or instructions is the expression and the language used to make that expression intelligible to the machine is the method of operation or system.
The fundamental "idea" of a computer programming language is to permit the user to create an arrangement of symbolic commands that will direct a computer to perform specified tasks. There may be lower-level ideas that are unprotectable as well, like a programming language directed to a special purpose, or the idea of an object-oriented language. But these ideas can be expressed in a wide variety of specific forms. While copyrighting a computer language cannot prevent others from designing programming languages that serve the same functions, the detailed vocabulary and written expression of the computer language should be protectable elements if sufficiently original and creative.
Java was created with the basic intention of letting developers use one language to write applications that would run anywhere. It is one of the basics of Web development and has been forked to suit developers' needs several times in its history. The idea of copyrighting Java is antithetical to the idea of Java. This comes to the central notion of the case. Oracle wants to argue that specific uses of Java in Android are an infringement of its patents acquired from Sun Microsystems. Google is going to argue that, as a language that fundamentally operates computers processes, Java is an abstract language that cannot be copyrighted.