As FossPatents reports, Oracle is arguing that Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) and program names, even subroutine names, should have the same copyright protection as the underlying code. And that such protection should be absolute.
In other words, Oracle could not only claim copyright over the mySQL database, but over the interfaces that connect it to other programs, and the names of the routines within the program.
This would make interoperability – a key to tying software together – impossible without the express permission and (perhaps payment to) the copyright holder. And that permission could be withheld, or taken back, at the copyright holder's whim.
The legal disputes about Google's Android operating system generally involve patents, with various companies (including Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL)) claiming control of all the basic functions that make up any smart phone.
If Oracle's case goes further. and If courts eventually agree, Oracle would have total control over Java and mySQL, based on the copyright assigned it when it acquired the programs.
Such a decision would have implications going far beyond the present case. Most open source projects assign copyright to a central authority, a company or a foundation. In its attempt to liberate its own code, the Apache Foundation allows code authors to keep their copyrights.
A decision in Oracle's favor, if upheld on appeal, would give companies and authorities absolute control over any connection to their programs, and would make it legally impossible for Apache to proceed, as all copyright holders would have to sign-off on anything the foundation did.
In essence, all software would become proprietary, to the copyright holder, which could absolutely control everything done in its name – its whole ecosystem – vetoing any connection to current software for the length of the copyright term, which can now mean a century or more.
This would be a bad outcome for Google, which depends heavily on open source, and a huge benefit to companies like Oracle, Apple and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) that have taken care to maintain copyrights. It would also destroy most of the open source movement, or could force that movement to Asia, where legal structures are still evolving.
The biggest losers would be customers of all kinds, from enterprises down to individuals. It would, at a stroke, not only raise the prices of enterprise software, but the cost of improving such software. Requiring legal agreements to connect to, or even name, a program whose copyright is held by someone else could make the current legal snake pit over patents look like a tempest in a teapot.
Critics complain all the time about government picking winners and losers in the market. They're usually referring to Congress or the executive branch. But the courts can do the same thing, and with absolutely no understanding of, or commitment to, the health of the business they are transforming.
Disclosure: I am long GOOG.