Jacob Parry

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May 14, 2016
Oracle v. Google

I’ve recently been following the proceedings in Oracle v. Google (2016), thanks to @sarahjeong for curating the amazing list oracle v. google. Since I’m nowhere near San Francisco, popping down to the courthouse to listen everyday would prove to be quite challenging, especially considering my full-time job.

I believe that the biggest take-away from the ongoing proceedings, since there is no judgement yet, would be whether or not a jury selected from the general population is qualified to judge such technical subject matter. This is a very difficult topic to discuss, as it is quite common for people in CS-related fields to think that they’re “above” the law, or that their work is so special it deserves its own rules, so I will state now that I think that this sort of problem is likely to occur in any sufficiently technical field such as law or medicine.

It seems like the jury has been getting the equivalent of a CS101 course from the various witnesses giving testimony, except that many of the concepts are obscured by the inherit bias of the attorneys and the fact that it must all follow the evidentiary rules of the court. Most of the people testifying are testifying about fact, rather than as an expert in their field, but it is extremely difficult to draw such a boundary. For someone to be qualified to be testifying about their involvement in writing part of the Java SE Specification, or implementing Apache Harmony, or working at IBM on the IBM SE SDK, it is almost implied that they are an expert witness based solely on their positions.

I guess the question must be asked: Are juries of ordinary people capable of understanding the subject matter well enough to make a technical decision about the legality of it? I would argue that, unless they are subject to an entire 4-month introductory CS course over the course of these proceedings (which it seems like Google is trying to do), it isn’t likely that they’ll have a firm grasp on the topics and will not be capable of making an accurate, informed decision. In fact, it would appear that, at times, the attorneys themselves don’t know what it is they’re arguing about, or anything about the subject matter:

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The real difficulty would be in finding a solution for this problem. Limiting a jury pool would be a very difficult (and dangerous) thing to do, since it could very easily be abused, and because certain groups are likely to exhibit certain biases, especially in relation to their subject matter. I think you would be much harder to find someone heavily involved and knowledgeable about CS who would side with Oracle in this case.

At the very least, we can rest assured that the judge is as well informed as you can hope.

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