Google vs. Oracle: How Hasty Blogs Can Fuel the Fire
It all started when Florian Mueller (pictured), a patent reform activist, blogged about what he found and believed was copyright infringement in Android, supposedly proving that Google was violating Oracle/Sun’s Java technology. But more than one respected voice came to Google’s aid, and it’s looking more as though the entire incident was a big mistake and the so-called “smoking gun” is more like sourceless vapor …
Many popular tech blogs feverishly posted about Mueller’s find, which you can read here. But both ZDnet and Ars Technica posted stories that apparently proved Mueller’s claims against Google are exaggerated. Without getting too geeky, let me explain the issue in the simplest terms possible:
- A file was mistakenly included in a package submitted to the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) code repository
- Said file has Java API wrappers and is used as a part of testing in Android development
- Some of the code in said file was from Sun and was available to be downloaded freely, but had restricted distribution terms
- Said file isn’t actually used on any Android phones
What ZDnet and Ars Technica so beautifully explain is that out of context, the code does look like a copy-and-paste job, but in reality, that file and code never made it into the operating system of a single Android phone. Ars Technica elaborates:
It’s not clear how the zip file got included in the AOSP, but it’s obvious that it wasn’t intended to be there and isn’t actually used by Android in any capacity. … At worst, it warrants a takedown notice. It’s certainly not a smoking gun as one might assume when viewing the code out of context.
What’s more, the apparent ‘smoking gun’ isn’t the heart of the issue between Google and Oracle. It’s a different file and code altogether, and what’s more, Google hasn’t (apparently) shipped that code into Android phones either.
So why the buzz? The story most likely spread the fastest not because of Mueller but because of Engadget’s promotion of the story. The site has since updated the story with a statement indicating that things aren’t “this simple, but they’re still not great [for Google],” and has linked to another article clarifying the issue. Google is still in a bit of uncomfortable water, since these issues leave liabilities, but it’s most definitely not as cut and dry as the initial reporting indicated.
So what have we learned? The whole situation is a lesson in responsible journalism, and more importantly, Internet journalism. In the fast-paced blog world, where site hits are worth more than gold and story traffic brings money, the hasty decision to hit “post” can be made all too easily. Maybe it was because of Mueller’s “25 years of software industry expertise spanning across different market segments” which he lists in his bio, but it pains me that no one over at Engadget examined the allegations with a fine-toothed comb.
At least other sites did. We’ll keep our fine-toothed comb handy as real developments in the Google vs. Oracle story come to light.