And to be fair to Oracle attorneys, although the copyleft idealism of the free and open source software movement infects Silicon Valley at its very foundation, Silicon Valley is a capitalist enterprise, and has always had an ambivalent relationship with FOSS. It's all well and good for Andy Rubin, co-founder of Android, to sit in a courtroom and explain that Android makes money despite giving a product away for free, but outside the walls of the courthouse, the elegant, perfectly manicured, proprietary walled gardens of Apple are beating the goddamn pants off Android.The nerds don't want to dwell on that. There's one big thing on their minds: they are really, really worried that the jury does not understand nerd shit. The witnesses that Google calls keep turning to the jury and trying to explain what an API is, only to be halted by Oracle's objections that Eric Schmidt (once an executive at Sun Microsystems, later chairman and CEO of Google, now executive chairman of Alphabet) and Jonathan Schwartz (CEO of Sun during Android's development) aren't expert witnesses.
Silicon Valley wants to live in a world of its own, where it sets its own rules and writes its own laws. Oracle v. Google does little to change its mind that this is only right and fair.
On the stand, Schwartz comes off as an inconsistent character, but his inconsistencies are only the inconsistencies of the tech industry at large. The big players both love and hate FOSS, and FOSS both loves and hates the big players. And in reality, the soulless corporations can't really be separated from the starry-eyed idealists, who themselves work for the corporations as both engineers and executives—thus generating the hypocrisies that Oracle is eager to point out in this trial.This is why Schwartz can speak reverently of Stallman, even though Schwartz apparently walked away from a deal with Android over disagreements about control of the Java ecosystem—control that Sun did not wish to relinquish. This is why Schwartz congratulates Google on developing an open source mobile platform to its face, and then calls it "Scroogle" in a private email—derogatory portmanteaus being a classic pastime of FOSS nerds, the most prolific creator being FOSS patron saint Richard Stallman himself, who insists on calling the Amazon Kindle "the Amazon Swindle."
But ever since a bunch of normals at the Federal Circuit decided in 2014 that the structure, sequence, and organization of the Java APIs are copyrightable, copyrightable they are—and now Google witnesses are struggling to explain their actions as part of a long shared history in an insular community of nerds with their own language, their own mythology, their own intuitions about software and intellectual property.Oracle v. Google is the revenge of the normals, bringing a hammer down on the customs and practices that the nerds decided for themselves. After all, something can't be copyrightable just because all the nerds agree it is; so why should something be unable to be copyrighted just because the nerds think it is?But Oracle v. Google does nothing to disabuse the nerd of the conviction that they are right, and that the copyright law forged by the normals is an unrigorous wishy-washy piece of nonsense. Because in this case, the law really is completely out of touch with what the technology actually is, with reality itself. Just look at the Federal Circuit opinion that ruled that APIs are copyrightable, where they say, "Google was free to develop its own API packages and to 'lobby' programmers to adopt them." A federal appeals court actually proposed that in some alternate universe, Android launched and told developers to write apps in a language they'd never encountered before.Silicon Valley wants to live in a world of its own, where it sets its own rules and writes its own laws. And Oracle v. Google does little to change its mind that this is only right and fair. It's why the tech community often lashes out with such vitriol at Larry Ellison over this suit: It's a betrayal of nerd solidarity, Ellison selling them all out just to land a $9 billion punch right in Google's face.The normals would have never had a chance to get it wrong if Ellison hadn't pursued this grudge-match all the way to the top. And now this trial—over whether the Android use of the Java APIs was fair use—proceeds on an absurd foundation, the assumption that APIs are copyrightable in the first place.Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that Eric Schmidt is the CEO of Alphabet. He is the chairman.
Oracle v. Google is the revenge of the normals, bringing a hammer down on the customs and practices that the nerds decided for themselves.