"From my perspective, it worries me — that question of trying to claim copyright in relation to part of the Java programming language," Rimmer says. "Ideally, in terms of computer programming, there needs to be a common language that programmers can draw upon to create computer programs. I just worry much [that] like with the English language certain things need to be in the public domain so that people can make use of certain sorts of languages to engage in creative expression.
"I think this case [Oracle's suit against Google] throws up quite basic issues about what is protected by copyright law and what is in the intellectual commons."
Although lawsuits over patents have had a much higher profile than litigation over copyright, Rimmer says that "it goes in phases".
"Copyright has much lower threshold to gain protection than patent law. So with patent law you have to establish there's novelty, an inventive step and utility. [With] copyright law in the United States you just have to show there's a creative spark and that's not a very high level originality required in relation to copyright protections. And copyright protection has a very long life."
"Historically it was thought there was a mismatch between copyright law and computer programs," Rimmer says. "In battles like this one you can see the awkward nature of the fit between copyright law and computer software and hardware… It's problematic at the moment that in relation to information technology there are these sweeping wars happening involving patents, and copyright, and trade secrets and trademarks.
"I'm just not sure whether those information technology wars are going to result in good outcomes for computer programming, innovation, consumer rights, competition… It just seems that these entities are going to be heavily involved in such battles for a very long time especially when you think about the length of copyright protection."
Additional reporting by Pascal Hakim.
Rohan Pearce is the editor of Techworld Australia. Contact him at rohan_pearce at idg.com.au.
Follow Rohan on Twitter: @rohan_p
Follow Techworld Australia on Twitter: @techworld_au