Google has been embroiled in a legal battle with Oracle for some time now, and the jury in the case is slowly releasing their verdicts on multiple issues. I haven’t written on it much here, because it’s being covered extensively by far more intelligent people elsewhere. The basics of the case are that Oracle has claimed that Google infringes on Oracle’s copyright in their Java APIs (37 API packages, specifically), as well as infringing on patents related to the same.
Though the story has been reported on quite extensively, the twitters and techmemes were abuzz yesterday when the jury in the case released their first verdict. The verdict? Well, they didn’t really reach one. The jury was instructed to assume the copyrightability of the Java APIs, and to come to a conclusion on whether Google’s use of the APIs was “fair use”. The jury instruction all but ensured that the jury would decide that Google infringed the API copyrights – the real issue in the case really ought to have been whether the APIs were indeed covered by copyright, but the judge has saved that determination for himself. The jury came back Monday with the statement of “we don’t know” on the issue of fair use.
How is that news being reported? This is Techcrunch’s Headline:
The Verdict Is In: Google Infringed On Oracle Copyrights
Correct, but completely misleading. Anybody following this story knew that the jury was going to find infringement (see here for one example), and anybody following the story also knew that the real issue was whether the jury would find the infringement to be fair use, and whether the court would find the APIs to be copyrightable. Techcrunch’s article is written as if the case is over. It’s not just Techcrunch – Wired is reporting today that “if” APIs are copyrightable (note: many legal pundits say that they are, and have been for a long time), then apparently the world will explode. The lead picture for the article is an atomic bomb. An atomic bomb? Really?
This isn’t the first instance of overzealous tech journalism, far from it, but Techcrunch’s (and other outlets’) coverage of major legal battles has sunk into the realm of tabloid sensationalism. Techcrunch recently reported on the Facebook v Yahoo patent fight by analyzing the patent abstracts, rather than the actual claims, to come to the ridiculous conclusion that “Facebook has the upper hand”. This is, obviously, months before any actual claim construction or significant developments in the case.
These are really important issues for the tech community to understand, but sensationalism and poor analysis only confuse the issues for readers. If Techcrunch wants to help educate on these issues, the least they could do is have a reputable source write a guest post.