The Mystery of the PolicyNodeImpl Class

In this blog, Sherlock Horstmann grabs his hat, pipe and decompiler to explore the mystery of the PolicyNodeImpl class. It is a story of intrigue and outrage. Oracle claims that this is the smoking gun for Google's heinous theft of its intellectual property. Google is mortally offended by this unfounded accusation. Who is right? Read on for the shocking revelation.

When Oracle, in its Android lawsuit, accused Google of copyright violation, I didn't think this was going to stick. I was pretty surprised when the PolicyNodeImpl comparison made its rounds a couple of weeks ago.

The complete “Exhibit J” is here.

There was a flurry of idle speculation, much of which could have been avoided by a bit of research.

Those are the facts. Now it is my turn to speculate. I figure someone decompiled a few files out of laziness, slapped the Apache license header on them without waiting for acceptance by Apache, and then forgot all about it when those files were never used for anything significant. That all is, of course, reprehensible.

You can find Google's response here. Note this quote:

Google further denies that the document attached to Oracle's Amended Complaint as Exhibit J contains a true and correct copy of a class file from either Android or "Oracle America's Java." Google states further that Oracle has redacted or deleted from the materials shown in Exhibit J both expressive material and copyright headers that appear in the actual materials, which are significant elements and features of the files in question.

That is disingenuous. Sure, Oracle took out the copyright headers, but if you look at the exhibit and the source files, the rest is complete.

Does it mean that Oracle hit paydirt? I don't think so—the copying was trivial in the grand scheme of things. (I assume that there wasn't any more egregious copying, or Oracle would have made hay of that.) Why did Oracle parade it to the media, even though they surely knew that it didn't amount to a hill of beans? Probably because they felt that copying code could be easily understood, and it would give them some good PR. Why didn't the Google lawyers admit that there was some minor hanky-panky going on? Probably because they didn't want to explain it—it's complicated.

All is fair in love and war, I suppose. It just doesn't make it easy for an onlooker to find out what is actually happening. Lesson learned: Don't trust the lawyers, don't trust the blog comments, but look at the source.