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Oracle and Google Spar Over Whether Programming Languages Can Be Copyrighted 316

Posted by Soulskill
from the makes-perfect-sense-minus-the-sense dept.
pcritter writes "With the Oracle v. Google trial date set for next Monday, the Judge has asked Google and Oracle to take a position on whether a programming language is copyrightable. This presumably relates to whether Google violated copyright by using a variant of the Java language and its APIs in the Android framework. Oracle, who thinks it can be, has used J.R.R. Tolkein's Elvish language as an examples (PDF) of a language that can be copyrighted. Google disagrees (PDF)."
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Oracle and Google Spar Over Whether Programming Languages Can Be Copyrighted

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  • Sure. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JustAnotherIdiot (1980292) on Friday April 13, 2012 @02:29PM (#39677291)
    Just don't expect anyone to take interest in your language if you copyright it.
    • My ass (Score:2, Interesting)

      by HBI (604924)

      A! Elbereth Gilthoniel!
      silivren penna míriel
      o menel aglar elenath,
      Gilthoniel, A! Elbereth!

      We still remember, we who dwell
      In this far land beneath the trees
      The starlight on the western seas

      • Re:My ass (Score:5, Funny)

        by idontgno (624372) on Friday April 13, 2012 @02:50PM (#39677615) Journal
        I suspect engraving "Elbereth" [steelypips.org] on the floor wouldn't prevent Oracle from attacking me. More's the shame.
    • Even if it were copyrightable. If it is made Open Source first, you can't come back later, declare it your property and compare it to Elvish.

    • by plopez (54068)

      Hmmmmm...... I do believe Java is copyrighted. I guess that's why it never took off

    • Your language would be copyrighted automatically whether you like it or not. You would have to explicitly apply a Free license in order to people to be able to freely use it. Otherwise you could sell the copyright to Oracle after it was in widespread use.

      • by narcc (412956)

        While you're 100% correct about copyright being automatic (at least in the US) with respect to the implementation of the language, the question here is if that also applies to the language itself.

        This would be a fairly new thing. Langauges like C and Pascal, for example, had zillions of different implementations each the copyright of their respective creators, but no one "owned" the language itself. (i.e. UCSD didn't pay Wirth for Pascal, Borland didn't pay Ritchie for C)

        • Re:Sure. (Score:5, Insightful)

          by DragonWriter (970822) on Friday April 13, 2012 @06:36PM (#39680459)

          While you're 100% correct about copyright being automatic (at least in the US) with respect to the implementation of the language, the question here is if that also applies to the language itself.

          Copyright is automatic in US law for anything that is a copyrightable work in US law. The only question is whether a programming language, as such, is a copyrightable work -- if it is, every programming language is copyrighted at the instant it is first created (a work being "created", in US copyright law, "when it is fixed in a copy or phonorecord for the first time" -- 17 USC Sec. 101.)

          Of course, the fact that the language -- as opposed to a description or implementation of the language -- is an abstraction that cannot be set in a fixed form makes it impossible for it to be "created" as defined in copyright law, but also makes it outside the scope of what is subject to copyright in the first place.

          This would be a fairly new thing. Langauges like C and Pascal, for example, had zillions of different implementations each the copyright of their respective creators, but no one "owned" the language itself. (i.e. UCSD didn't pay Wirth for Pascal, Borland didn't pay Ritchie for C)

          If programming languages were copyrightable works, then somebody has owned each of those languages from the moment they were created, even if, to date, they've been fairly lax in enforcing their rights against others who use the languages without permission, either directly or by creating derivative languages of their own.

          (If the courts were to accept Oracle's position, I suspect that a lot of that laxness would end swiftly.)

      • by geekoid (135745)

        Since it's just math, I would say it wouldn't apply.

        • Re:Sure. (Score:5, Interesting)

          by gtall (79522) on Friday April 13, 2012 @06:54PM (#39680637)

          A programming language has a syntax and a semantics. The semantics is generally considered mathematics. The language itself is not math. There are no reduction rules telling you how to compute in the language as opposed to, say, the lambda calculus (note the name calculus).

          Consider the type system for a compute language. Where do the types exists? In the language? Nope, they are in a mathematical system into which the language must be interpreted.

          That said, Oracle can suck eggs, Java isn't copyrightable because languages shouldn't be copyrightable. Their implementation may be, but language is an abstract thing. Being an abstraction does not make something mathematics, i.e., love.

    • Re:Sure. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Jonner (189691) on Friday April 13, 2012 @09:28PM (#39681855)

      Just don't expect anyone to take interest in your language if you copyright it.

      I'm pretty sure Sun never made any ludicrous claim that they held a copyright on the Java language rather than specific implementations of it. There's a long history of independent implementations (as opposed to Microsoft's derivative of Sun's code) based on the good public specifications from Sun that they never attacked. The fact that Oracle is completely reversing this stance is not only illogical, but extremely anti-competitive. We've been worried about Microsoft patents on DotNet stuff for a long time, but it seems we were looking at the wrong anti-competitive behemoth. Perhaps the deepest irony is that while Sun sued Microsoft because Microsoft's version wasn't compatible with theirs, Oracle is suing Google because Google's implementation is compatible with theirs at a source level.

  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn@@@gmail...com> on Friday April 13, 2012 @02:32PM (#39677327) Journal
    If they were copyrighted, wouldn't the assembly and machine language folks get the last laugh? I mean, copyright lasts nearly forever now in the United States and the first guy who thought up what to call registers or how to represent them in a language or what shift left should look like or even the people who came up with RISC, CISC, etc would be laughing all the way to the bank ... right? I mean, even though it might just be a handful of instructions that interact with hardware, wouldn't this position make it just as copyrighted as the higher level languages which, in the end, depend on this stuff to interact with the hardware?
    • by Galestar (1473827)
      Oracle doesn't care about that stuff. They will say just about anything so that Larry Ellison can buy another yacht.
    • Assembly language is different for different processors. I'm pretty sure that Intel has a copyright on x86 assembly, but that doesn't stop ARM from using a completely different assembly language on their processor.
      • by JDG1980 (2438906)

        I'm pretty sure that Intel has a copyright on x86 assembly

        No. What Intel does have is a wide variety of patents (not copyrights) on various methods used to implement efficient x86 CPUs and code execution, and these ensure that pretty much no one except Intel, AMD, and VIA can produce a modern x86 CPU. You could probably make a 386 (20+ years old and thus out of patent range) if you wanted to, but who would buy it?

    • Wouldn't George Boole own the copyright? Since he's been dead for ~150 years, he's unlikely to claim it.

      Perhaps we should all start registering stuff like 01110011100111000111100111001110110101010, and if it accidentally appears in anyone's computer program, MP3 file, or any type of data file, we can sue them for all they're worth.

      Also, since "Java" is an English word, and all the keywords in Java are also existing words, I don't think they have a leg to stand on.

      Language Designers: If you really
    • by sl4shd0rk (755837)

      If they were copyrighted, wouldn't the assembly and machine language folks get the last laugh?

      Yep. Imagine the orgy of copyright lawsuits coming out if the judge rules languages are copyrightable.

  • by Luthair (847766) on Friday April 13, 2012 @02:36PM (#39677385)
    Since Java borrows a lot of syntax from from C/C++ wouldn't that make it a derivative work ;)
    • Depends on whether the syntax is the creative part. If you copyright a textbook, the facts and figures are not protected, only any creative elements are.

      • It copies a lot of semantics from Smalltalk and Objective-C. If either can be copyrighted then they're infringing the copyright of others, if neither can then they don't have anything that can be copyrighted.
      • by fbartho (840012)

        If the syntax *isn't* the creative part, then what is?

        • The whitespace* of course!

          *I don't know enough Java to know whether it even gives a damn about whitespace

  • What is Java? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by swm (171547) * <swmcd@world.std.com> on Friday April 13, 2012 @02:39PM (#39677461) Homepage

    The technical definition of the Java language is "the set of all Java programs".
    This is an infinite set.
    Therefore, it cannot be fixed in a tangible medium.
    Therefore, it it is ineligible for copyright protection.

    • by plopez (54068)

      But you can construct a method to create an infinite set. Classic example. Begin with the empty set and a few small operations e.g. containment, and union. You then define a set of cardinality 1 as a set that contains the null set, cardinality 2 would be a set that contains a set which contains an empty set. You then have the whole numbers which is a (countably) infinite set. Java is more like the method used to build the countably infinite set of programs. You are confusing the sausage with the sausage mak

    • Re:What is Java? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by jd (1658) <imipak@@@yahoo...com> on Friday April 13, 2012 @03:56PM (#39678475) Homepage Journal

      An interesting argument, there are others that are perhaps better-suited to the courtroom. Java is an API, the implementation is in the JVM and not the language. APIs are not automatically copyright, since they are a meta-description. The -implementation- of those APIs is copyright, because it is a specific case. It's the same reason that a dictionary can be copyright but the words within it cannot.

      Sun successfully argued in court that to call something Java it has to implement the Java API. That's fair enough. It would be deceptive if you implemented Basic and called it C and it would be maliciously deceptive if you did so for the purpose of damaging C (whether or not it had much impact in the end), so Microsoft's deliberate attempt to destroy Java by violating the standards was definitely in the wrong and enforcing those standards in court was an impressive feat by Sun.

      Sun did NOT argue Microsoft could not implement Java, merely that if they wrote something they promoted as Java then it damn well should be Java.

      Oracle's argument is significantly different. The enforcement of a standard by trademark is very different from the enforcement of using a specific implementation by saying that the standard is the work.

      I can respect the former. I would have no difficulty with Oracle arguing that all trademarks and licenses involving Java require adherence to the official standard, that said licenses stipulate that there should be no fragmentation of that standard as a condition of use, and that the Android implementation cannot violate the licenses involved (for the trademarks or anything else) as per the Microsoft case.

      I cannot, however, respect the idea that the standard IS the implementation. It patently isn't (pun not intended), since the standard implements nothing. To allow that argument would be extremely dangerous, as it would mean that Oracle could circumvent all analysis on the legality of patents on intangibles like business methods by simply claiming they're copyright instead. Indeed, because of international copyright agreements, it would mean that things which are NOT protected (for good reason) in the EU would suddenly become protected despite contrary rulings by the EU's courts. ie: it would allow Oracle to impose a law on Europe that Europe has rejected as unlawful. Complain about the EU being undemocratic all you like, but I sure as hell didn't elect Oracle as president of anything.

  • goto: Elbereth ? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Friday April 13, 2012 @02:42PM (#39677503)

    Oracle, who thinks it can be, has used J.R.R. Tolkein's Elvish language as an example of a language that can be copyrighted.

    Sure, but I wasn't aware that was a *programming* language.

    • by dgatwood (11270)

      I suspect that Elvish can't really be copyrighted either. It just hasn't been struck down in the courts yet. That said, to the extent that it might be copyrightable, it would be the non-Latin alphabet, not the words, that are protectable by virtue of their having been designed, and thus, a creative work in and of themselves.

      If I copyright a novel, I can't sue someone who happened to use 30% of the same words in a completely different order to express a completely different thought. The fact that the wor

  • by slew (2918) on Friday April 13, 2012 @02:43PM (#39677539)

    Of course Java can't be copyrighted, but Go, Renderscript and the Android library interface can be copyrighted?

    IANAL, but on the other hand, if no computer language or library API can enjoy copyright protection, then it appears to me that it doesn't have GPL or Creative Commons protection either (since being required to follow these licences follows from the copyright holder's discretion)...

    Be careful what you wish for google...

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I believe they refer to the language itself, not the implementation. The current C Programming specification (C11) is available for download. I think you have to pay a fee to download it, earlier drafts should be free. It is then up to X, Y and Z companies to implement the C programming language and libraries according to the specification. It is then those implementations the ones that are copyrighted.

      In other words, if tomorrow we decide to wake up and write a new Java compiler and Java runtime, we just n

      • FWIW, at least in the C programming case, the ISO/IEC claims copyright of the specifcation itself. ISO/IEC sells the specification (called 14882:2011) and says you can't copy the specification without a license [iso.org] from them.

        Of course, the question is not if someone copies the java (or c) language spec word-for-word (e.g, photo or electronic copy), but if someone made a derivative of this work (say an implementation with its own reference or subset specification) if it subject to being considered having a deri

        • by mrchaotica (681592) * on Friday April 13, 2012 @04:37PM (#39679041)

          But the specification is not the language. The specification is a description of the language, but that's not the same as the language itself. Anybody else is free to write their own specification that's functionally equivalent but described differently.

          Of course, I'd argue that it's unreasonable and unethical to charge for access to an official standard (in the same way it would be unethical to charge for access to the text of a law), but that's a different discussion.

    • Of course Java can't be copyrighted, but Go, Renderscript and the Android library interface can be copyrighted?

      Actually, Google's brief on the copyrightability of programmingly languages notes that Google created Go and several other languages, that it claims copyright on the implementation of those languages (and makes them available under open-source licenses), but that it does not purport to license the languages themselves because the languages are not subject to copyright.

      IANAL, but on the other hand,

  • Any lawyers here? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by nine-times (778537) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Friday April 13, 2012 @02:46PM (#39677563) Homepage

    I'm totally baffled by this and would like an explanation of how a language could possibly be copyrighted. Is Tolkein's Elvish language copyrighted, and if so, what does that mean? I can understand specific phrases from his books being copyrighted, but if I translated this post into Elvish, does Tolkein's estate suddenly own the copyright to this post? Or what?

    Sorry, but the idea of owning the copyright to a language seems silly. I might understand patenting a use of a language or patenting a method of translation, but the language itself? Doesn't copyright need to apply to a specific expression? Like... I can copyright the image of a painting, but I can't copyright paint.

    • by CaptBubba (696284)

      The words are under copyright because Tolkien created them and defined their associated meaning. You would be perfectly fine with using the script (typefaces are not subject to copyright in the US, they are in the UK) but because all of the meanings for the words come from Tolkien having defined a combination of sounds/letters as "meaning" something a translation would be a derivative of Tolkien's creative work. It is akin to the difference between painting a new image and using someone else's paintings i

      • That said I don't think that such an argument really applies to functional things such as a programming language.

        sure it does. oracle (or rather Sun before them) put in the effort to create oracles keywords and syntax. how is that all that different than Tolkien inventing elvish words and sentence structure? If Tolkien's elvish is indeed copyrighted i see no reason Java can't be.

        Oracle just better be careful what they wish for, if they win it could kill off Java.

      • Re:Any lawyers here? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by mrchaotica (681592) * on Friday April 13, 2012 @04:41PM (#39679095)

        The words are under copyright because Tolkien created them and defined their associated meaning. You would be perfectly fine with using the script (typefaces are not subject to copyright in the US, they are in the UK) but because all of the meanings for the words come from Tolkien having defined a combination of sounds/letters as "meaning" something a translation would be a derivative of Tolkien's creative work.

        I don't buy that argument at all. If that were true, then people would also be able to copyright new English words they coined.

  • Oracle silliness (Score:5, Insightful)

    by swillden (191260) <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Friday April 13, 2012 @02:50PM (#39677619) Homepage Journal

    I suppose lawyers have an ethical duty to argue every point that reasonably could help their client, but this is silly. I really like the comments in a couple of the footnotes in Google's response:

    Similarly, fictional languages such as Na’vi and Dothraki cannot be copyrighted. While the film Avatar and the television series Game of Thrones are copyrightable (including the portions in the fictional Na’vi and Dothraki languages), and while, for example, a dictionary or grammar textbook for either language would be copyrightable, the languages themselves are not. Oracle asks why copyright should not protect such languages, see Oracle 4/5/12 Br. [Dkt. 859] at 9; the answer is that Section 102(b) says that they are not protected. Moreover, there is no reason to believe that allowing copyright owners to control who can express themselves in these languages would further the aims of copyright law.

    Umm, duh. Do they really want to argue that, say, stating "Your mother is ugly" or some other random sentence in, say, Dothraki is a public performance of a copyrighted work? That's what it would have to be if the language itself were copyrightable.

    Even clearer, though:

    Oracle also argues that a computer language can be “original, text-based, and capable of fixation,” and thus that it must be copyrightable. See Oracle 4/5/12 Br. [Dkt. 859] at 9. First, Section 102(b) bars copyright protection for “original works of authorship” that fall within its enumerated classes of exclusion. See 17 U.S.C. 102(b). Thus, the fact that a system is original, text-based and fixed does not mean that Section 102(b) does not apply. Second, a language cannot be fixed. Certainly, a description of a language (e.g., a specification) can be fixed. A computer program written using the language (e.g., the Gmail application on Android phones) or an implementation of a language (e.g., a compiler or interpreter) can be fixed. But none of those things is “the language,” any more than a dictionary “is” English, Das Boot “is” German, or a C compiler “is” the C programming language. See Baker, 101 U.S. at 102 (“But' there is a clear distinction between the book, as such, and the art which it is intended to illustrate. The mere statement of the proposition is so evident, that it requires hardly any argument to support it.”); cf. René Magritte, La trahison des images.

    Exactly. How can you write down a "language"? You can describe it. You can list the allowable words and explain how they can and cannot be put together, but such a description isn't a language. You can use it. You can create prose, poetry, or, computer programs with it, expressing and fixing your own ideas in the constructs provided by the language, but an expression in a language isn't the language.

    A language is about as pure an abstract idea as I can imagine, and ideas are not copyrightable, only expressions.

    (Disclaimer: I work for Google, but have nothing to do with any of this Java folderol, other than using the language occasionally. I'm a programmer but not a language expert and would not be qualified to offer expert testimony on this topic, even if I were asked to, which I haven't been. Other than the quotes, the above is my own opinions, nothing more. In this case it appears that they align closely with Google's officially-stated opinions, however!)

    • by Derekloffin (741455) on Friday April 13, 2012 @03:15PM (#39677929)
      It goes beyond just that silliness too. Let's just give for a second that a programming language is copyrightable. Well, derivative works are also automatically copyrighted too, and Java is derivative of C++ and C before it, and probably something before that, and none of those have expired. Plus, forward facing, all use of Java of would be copyrighted too. So, suddenly, you'd have every business using Java pissed at Oracle for claiming copyright on their work, but not only that, Oracle has thrown the door wide open for being sued themselves for copyright infringement on a vast scale. Yeah, this is an argument you want to go down in flames, and really even Oracle, they may not realize it, but they too want it to go down in flames as well.
    • See Baker, 101 U.S. at 102 (“But' there is a clear distinction between the book, as such, and the art which it is intended to illustrate. The mere statement of the proposition is so evident, that it requires hardly any argument to support it.”); cf. René Magritte, La trahison des images.

      And, by quoting Magritte in his argument this lawyer has increased my respect of the entire profession by 7%...

  • by SkOink (212592) on Friday April 13, 2012 @02:51PM (#39677635) Homepage

    I have to admit, I'm impressed with the judge's question. I'd agree that this is really what's at the heart of the matter, and I'm glad that the judge is asking it. It certainly seems like he's taken the time to do his homework into programming languages and computing.

  • by Greyfox (87712) on Friday April 13, 2012 @02:52PM (#39677653) Homepage Journal
    Then every program in that language must therefore be a derivative work. If a judge finds that a language can be copyrighted, there would be no reason why Oracle could not claim every single java program ever written is a derivative work based on their copyright. I'm pretty sure their license does not have an exclusion for that, either.

    What about the language should be considered copyrightable? The keywords? Because Java looks a lot like many other languages. Perhaps the creators of those languages should sue Oracle for Copyright Infringement, then. Oracle's class and function layout looks a LOT like C and C++.

    Is it the standard library? Would a clean room implementation of a published API be considered copyright infringement? I think there are precedents that it would not, at least going back to the IBM PC BIOS reverse-engineering.

    Is it the idea of object orientation? That was around long before Sun released Java. I have a LISP textbook I got in the '80s that showed a lisp program doing object-oriented kinds of things with lisp data structures.

    Attempting to copyright any of these things would run you afoul of the people who actually invented them. In theory you could patent aspects of your language (And they probably did) but doesn't last nearly as long as copyright would.

  • I hate oracle. I hate oracle at work. I hate reading about oracle. I hate that oracle is now in control of Java. Oracle is just like Sun, only the exact opposite.
  • by ilsaloving (1534307) on Friday April 13, 2012 @02:56PM (#39677719)

    And in one fel swoop, this case has gone from simple money grabbing to downright surreal. To decide whether a language itself can be copyright-able is going to be incredibly significant, regardless of which way the final decision goes, and I'm believe it was unwise for Oracle to even raise this issue.

    If a programming language cannot be copyrighted, then their whole argument goes down the tubes and they can potentially lose a lot more than just this lawsuit. They could conceivably lose control of java.

    If a programming language CAN be copyrighted, I expect to see a flurry of lawsuits as different language authors start suing one another for "stealing" parts of "their" language. The vast majority, if not all, of java syntax is directly lifted from other languages. There is absolutely nothing unique about Java's grammar.

    I am going to be very interested now in the outcome of this case.

    • by JamesP (688957) on Friday April 13, 2012 @03:17PM (#39677955)

      Yes

      I sincerely think Google should quietly buy the copyright to C/C++ before this

      Then let Oracle go ahead with this.

      As soon as Oracle gets copyright protection on languages google does 2 things:

      1 - (motion to) Block the sale/usage of anything Java since Java comes from C/C++
      2 - (motion to) Block the use of anything written in C/C++: Oracle products, JVM, etc, etc

      Losing Android at this point is merely an annoyance.

      Congratulation Oracle, if that's what you want, that's what you get.

  • by Skapare (16644) on Friday April 13, 2012 @03:21PM (#39678007) Homepage

    The very concept of a programming language that fulfills a particular need (portability, for example) is the idea. The creation of Java [wikipedia.org], and all the symbols and names of the language, is an expression of that idea. The creation of another language that operates similarly, but sufficiently different in symbols and names to be clear that it is not a derived work (for example, the Forth language [wikipedia.org]), but is a new and original expression, could be an expression of that same idea (though not exactly in this case). So I'm afraid that Oracle [wikipedia.org], as much as I hate it, may be right on this one.

    While I believe that it can be argued that programs written in Java are not expressions of Java, the difficulty is whether the expression of a compiler containing the same collection of symbols and names is, or is not, a derived work. I believe that it is ... because it cannot be shown that the set of symbols and names came from another source or is an original creation. We know it came from Java.

    A language may also be patentable (e.g. this set of components, symbols, names, and semantics, is an innovative solution to that problem), especially under our messed up patent system. But that's not arguable in this case as far as I know.

    Maybe Google should just shift Android over to Go [wikipedia.org] or Dart [wikipedia.org] or something.

    • If creating the compiler is a violation of copyright, assuming a programming language is found to be copyrightable, then the java compiler, which is not written in java, but c would be violating somebody else's copyright. So, if Oracle wins, because even a compiler is considered a derived work, then they themselves will be guilty, too.

    • by ratboy666 (104074)

      This has been argued before - attempt to copyright letterforms in fonts.

      Which would have made all material expressed in those fonts derived works.

      And lost. There is no copyright in letterforms. (digital representation and font names, but not letterforms). The answer to "is there a derived copyright on object code from simply compiling source code" must be NO. If held true, I am sorry to say, that ALL software would be copyrighted by a very small group of people. (like font designers having a derived copyrig

  • Derivative Works? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Bob9113 (14996) on Friday April 13, 2012 @03:29PM (#39678099) Homepage

    Copyright includes the notion of derivative works. Java is an excellent example of a derivative work, borrowing most of its core syntax from C. Oracle is effectively proposing that Dennis Ritchie's estate owns a huge swath of the language space; Objective C, ECMAScript, Java, C++, C# -- a big chunk of commercial programming is done in languages that are not even distant derivations, but nearly direct copies.

  • Surely this isn't an argument Oracle wants to win?

    Since they'll be on the hook for far more than they'll win if their argument becomes the legal interpretation...

  • Recall that copyright is automatic, compulsory, and retroactive. All existing computer languages that have not been explicitly placed in the public domain would be clouded. Ada might be safe, but I not much else.

  • by JDG1980 (2438906) on Friday April 13, 2012 @05:17PM (#39679589)
    Oracle's reference to the Tolkien Elvish language is exceptionally weak. They note that Tolkien's estate claims that Elvish is copyrighted, but they provide no case law to substantiate that claim. Instead, they cite a link to the personal Web site of a lawyer who is also a Tolkien fan [theodoramichaels.com]. And the page includes the following:

    I'm not the first to look at this issue. Back in 1999, some Tolkien scholars wanted to publish a journal entitled Tyalià Tyelelliéva, which was to include original poetry written using Tolkien's languages, but they didn't want to run afoul of copyright law. So they solicited a legal opinion from Robert P. Wade, former General Counsel, National Endowment for the Arts. This opinion is available online. He researched the law and concluded that this use would not violate any Tolkien copyrights, for a few different reasons. I won't have time to go into all of them, but here's one: The copyright law specifically says it does not protect any procedure, process, or system.12 A language is a system.13 In fact, there have been cases saying that computer languages are not copyrightable.14 Computer programs are copyrightable, but not the languages used to write them. Would a court find that a language intended for use by humans -- or elves -- falls into the same category? I can't say for sure, but I think there's a good chance of it.

    So not only does their own citation say that it is likely Elvish is not copyrightable, it also says that computer languages are not copyrightable – directly undermining Oracle's own specific case! Did the attorney who included this citation assume no one would check it? I expect this kind of practice from desperate college students, not high-priced corporate lawyers.

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