Reusing software 'interfaces' is fine, Google tells Supreme Court, pleads: Think of the devs

Don't 'upend the computer software industry'

Google last night strode into the last-chance saloon of the US Supreme Court, warning judges (PDF) that if they did not overturn a Federal Circuit ruling in Oracle's favour over its use of Java code in the Android mobile operating system, it could "upend ... the computer software industry."

"New entrants into a software market 'reimplement' existing tools," argued Google, adding in a plea in the umpteenth appeal in the near decade-long spat that amounts to: "Think of the devs!"

A ruling by this Court that copyright prohibits that reimplementation would allow the authors of older software to hold their users hostage, lest the skills that the users have built up over long periods of time become worthless when they move to a new environment.

It held that Google "reused declarations from the Java SE libraries because — and only because — no other option would recognize the calls used by Java developers".

Google also repeated an earlier argument in the same copyright spat, rejected when the battle was going through the Federal Circuit, that the "merger doctrine" excluded Java's APIs from copyright protection. The merger doctrine holds that "when there is only one way to write something, the merger doctrine bars anyone from claiming exclusive copyright ownership of that expression."

The lower court had previously held (in 2013) that the merger doctrine did not apply because "[t]he evidence showed that Oracle had 'unlimited options as to the selection and arrangement of the 7,000 lines of code Google copied." In other words, that previous ruling stated that the idea and its expression had not merged, because at the time of creation, there had been multiple ways of expressing the former.

Other strands of the Mountain View firm's argument include that the "declarations were highly functional, rather than expressive", and that Google used a relatively small number of the Java APIs proportionate to the Java code base.

How long has this been going on...

The case has now rolled on for nearly a full decade, first kicking off in August 2010 over Google's unlicensed use of Java APIs in Android, by far the most used mobile operating system in the industry, with various stat-botherers saying it runs on at least seven of every 10 smartphones in use globally.

Google bought Android, a Linux mobile OS startup that used Java's class library APIs, in 2005 for a mere $50m, and launched the first phone to use the mobile OS in 2008.

Back in '10, Oracle's original filing - shot off just a year after it acquired ownership of Java when it bought Sun Microsystems for $7.4bn - included a claim for patent infringement, which failed, but the copyright claim was upheld in 2012. Google, which claims its use of the software was covered by the American copyright doctrine of fair use – Big Red contests this – won its case twice in San Francisco federal court. The first time, in 2012, US District Judge William Alsup ruled that APIs, in and of themselves, cannot be copyrighted, before that decision was reversed in the federal appeals court, which found Big Red's Java code was covered by copyright. Emails emanating from Android daddy Andy Rubin himself - shown in court at the time - stated that while working on Android he'd believed that key Java APIs were copyrighted.

Then in 2016, a jury ruled Google's use of copyright materials was fair use – a decision that Big Red duly appealed multiple times before finally having it overturned in 2018.

Larry Ellison photo by drserg via Shutterstock

Happy as Larry: Why Oracle won the Google Java Android case


Google tried to appeal this decision, but in August, 2018, the federal court refused to re-hear the case, leading Google to make this last-ditch appeal to the top court in the US, the Supreme Court.

The Supreme case so far

So far, Google has flung amicus briefs from the biggest firms in the software industry, including Microsoft, whose submission ironically argued for third-party developers to be able to access and reuse code in aid of broader "interoperability" between platforms.

Oracle, in a March filing, told the Supremes that the Court of Appeals was correct in holding that Google violated Oracle's copyright when it built a version of Java for the Android OS, and that it was "not fair use as a matter of law".

The US Solicitor General agreed in an October 2019 filing, though Google quickly snapped back that Federal Circuit's fair use ruling was "not free from doubt."

If the court rules in favour of Oracle, the Chocolate Factory will have to cough for copyright damages that Oracle estimated at $9.3bn in 2016, nearly $2bn more than Oracle paid for Sun Microsystems back in 2009. Google spent a fraction of that on Android, then a two-year-old startup founded by Andy Rubin and others, 15 years ago.

Oracle told The Reg: "While Google would prefer to live in a world unencumbered by intellectual property rights, in the real world copyrights are an essential protection and incentive for innovation. Oracle offers several licensing options for Java. Ethical developers and businesses around the world continue to recognize the value of Java and take advantage of our licenses to drive innovation and profit." ®

Intel CPU interconnects can be exploited by malware to leak encryption keys and other info, academic study finds

Side-channel ring race 'hard to mitigate with existing defenses'

Chip-busting boffins in America have devised yet another way to filch sensitive data by exploiting Intel's processor design choices.

Doctoral student Riccardo Paccagnella, master's student Licheng Luo, and assistant professor Christopher Fletcher, all from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, delved into the way CPU ring interconnects work, and found they can be abused for side-channel attacks. The upshot is that one application can infer another application's private memory and snoop on the user's key presses.

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SolarWinds just keeps getting worse: New strain of backdoor malware found in probe

Plus: McAfee's in serious trouble over claimed cryptocurrency scam

In brief Another form of malware has been spotted on servers backdoored in the SolarWinds' Orion fiasco.

The strain, identified as SUNSHUTTLE by FireEye, is a second-stage backdoor written in Go which uses HTTPS to communicate with a command-and-control server for data exfiltration, adding new code as needed. Someone based in the US, perhaps at an infected organization, uploaded the malware to a public malware repository in August last year for analysis, well before the cyber-spying campaign became public.

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Linus Torvalds issues early Linux Kernel update to fix swapfile SNAFU

‘Subtle and very nasty bug’ meant 5.12 rc1 could trash entire filesystems

Linux overlord Linus Torvalds has rushed out a new release candidate of Linux 5.12 after the first in the new series was found to include a ‘subtle and very nasty bug’ that was so serious he marked rc1 as unsuitable for use.

“We had a very innocuous code cleanup and simplification that raised no red flags at all, but had a subtle and very nasty bug in it: swap files stopped working right. And they stopped working in a particularly bad way: the offset of the start of the swap file was lost,” Torvalds wrote in a March 3rd post to the Linux Kernel Mailing List.

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Remember that day in March 2020 when you were asked to get the business working from home – tomorrow, if possible? Here's how that worked out

IT pros from orgs large and small tell The Reg the tech delivered, mostly, but couriers and home Wi-Fi suddenly became your problem

Covid Logfile Brianna Haley was given one day to be ready to roll out Zoom for 13,000 users at over 1,000 sites.

Haley* is a project analyst for a large healthcare provider that, as COVID-19 marched across the world in March 2020, realised imminent lockdowns meant it would soon be unable to consult with patients.

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The torture garden of Microsoft Exchange: Grant us the serenity to accept what they cannot EOL

Time to fix those legacy evils, though.... right?

Column It is the monster which corrupts all it touches. It is an energy-sucking vampire that thrives on the pain it promotes. It cannot be killed, but grows afresh as each manifestation outdoes the last in awfulness and horror. It is Microsoft Exchange and its drooling minion, Outlook.

Let us start with the most numerous of its victims, the end users. Chances are, you are one. You may be numbed by lifelong exposure, your pain receptors and critical faculties burned out though years of corrosion. You might be like me, an habitual avoider whose work requirements periodically force its tentacles back in through the orifices.

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Just when you thought it was safe to enjoy a beer: Beware the downloaded patch applied in haste

Let us tell you a tale of the Mailman's Apprentice

Who, Me? The weekend is over and Monday is here. Celebrate your IT prowess with another there-but-for-the-grace confession from the Who, Me? archives.

Our tale, from a reader the Regomiser has elected to dub "Simon", takes us back to the early part of this century and to an anonymous antipodean institution of learning.

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US National Security Council urges review of Exchange Servers in wake of Hafnium attack

Don't just patch, check for p0wnage, says top natsec team

The Biden administration has urged users of Microsoft's Exchange mail and messaging server to ensure they have not fallen victim to the recently-detected "Hafnium" attack on Exchange Server that Microsoft says originated in China.

Microsoft revealed the attack last week and released Exchange security updates.

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Delayed, overbudget and broken. Of course Microsoft's finest would be found in NASA's Orion

In Space No One Can Hear You Scream (as Windows crashes again)

BORK!BORK!BORK! Getting astronauts to the Moon or Mars is the least of NASA's problems. Persuading Microsoft Windows not to fall over along the way is apparently a far greater challenge.

Spotted by Register reader Scott during a visit to the otherwise excellent Space Center Houston, there is something all too real lurking within the mock-up of the Orion capsule in which NASA hopes to send its astronauts for jaunts beyond low Earth orbit.

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NASA shows Mars that humans can drive a remote control space tank at .01 km/h

Perseverance takes first drive around landing spot named in honor of seminal sci-fi author Octavia E. Butler

NASA’s Perseverance rover trekked across Mars for the first time last Thursday, March 4, 2021.

The vehicle went four whole meters forward, turned 150 degrees to the left, then moved another two-and-a-half meters. The entire drive covered a whopping 6.5 m (21.3 feet) across Martian terrain. The journey took about 33 minutes.

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University of the Highlands and Islands shuts down campuses as it deals with 'ongoing cyber incident'

Ten letters, starts with R, ends with E, three syllables

The University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) in Scotland is fending off "an ongoing cyber incident" that has shut down its campuses.

In a message to students and staff yesterday afternoon, the institution, which spans 13 locations across the northernmost part of the UK, warned that "most services" – including its Brightspace virtual learning environment – were affected.

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